The aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and estranged wife of the uncle he had executed in December may actually be in a vegetative state, following previous reports that she had committed suicide.
Kim Kyong-hui has not been seen in public since September 2013 when she attended a musical performance by the North Korean military. Intelligence sources in South Korea believed she was dead, possibly as a result of killing herself, reports the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.
She is the only daughter of North Korean government founder Kim Il Sung, and married Jan Song Thaek, a close confidant of Kim Jong Il who remained in Kim Jong Un's inner circles until he was executed in December.
Now intelligence sources believe Kim Kyong-hui, 67, remains in a vegetative state after surgery in late 2013 for a brain tumor, according to the Telegraph. She was noticeably absent from a Dec. 17 ceremony, where an empty chair was placed alongside Kim Jong Un on the podium.
"We believe (she) is in critical condition," a senior South Korean official told Yonhap News on Wednesday. Her current medical complications appear to stem from a heart issue, Yonhap reports.
The details of her surgery remain unclear. The Telegraph reports it took place in Paris, while Yonhap cites officials who say she traveled to Russia for the treatment.
Heart issues are endemic in the Kim family, Yonhap reports. Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack suddenly in 2011. Kim Il Sung died of heart failure in 1994.
The continued reports of strife within the Kim family come amid an ongoing trip to the hermetic nation by former NBA player Dennis Rodman and a team of 10 other professional basketball players.
The trip, like Rodman's previous three, has grabbed significant headline space, this time over his placing blame on American citizen Kenneth Bae for his ongoing detainment there. Bae's family lashed out at the remarks made by Rodman, who insists his trip is not a political one.
Rodman apologized Thursday for an outburst during a live segment with CNN's Chris Cuomo on Tuesday, saying he had been drinking.
"I want to first apologize to Kenneth Bae's family," he said, according to a CNN report. "I want to apologize to my teammates and my management team. I also want to apologize to Chris Cuomo."
"I embarrassed a lot of people," he added. "I'm very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I'm truly sorry."
Rodman said he was overwhelmed and the day of the interview had been very stressful.
"I had been drinking," Rodman said. "It's not an excuse but by the time the interview happened I was upset. I was overwhelmed."