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Kim Jong Un's long-lost US-based aunt

May 28, 2016

The North Korean leader's defected relatives have spoken with the Washington Post about the Pyongyang regime. As a child, Kim had a short temper and went on hunger strikes if he didn't get what he wanted, they said.

Kim Jong Un
Image: dapd

Ko Yong Suk, Kim's mother's sister and her husband, Ri Gang, spoke to the newspaper, describing how they raised Kim Jong Un and why they decided to defect to the United States.

The 60-year-old Ko and her husband are currently running a dry cleaning business in the US, and have three children.

Kim was born in 1984, not in 1982 or 1983, as people earlier believed, Ko revealed. "He and my son were playmates from birth. I changed both of their diapers," she said, indicating that her child was born the same year as the North Korean leader.

Kim Jong Chol, Kim Jong Un's brother
Kim Jong Chol, Kim Jong Un's younger brotherImage: AFP/Getty Images

Ko Yong Suk arrived in Switzerland in 1992, with her sister's first son, Kim Jong Chol and his father Kim Jong Il, who became North Korea's leader in 1994. "I was very close to my sister, and it was a tough job to be the wife, so she asked me to help her," Ko said, explaining why she was chosen to raise the young Kim.

Not a very normal life

Kim Jong Un reached Europe in 1996, when he was 12 years old.

"We lived in a normal house and acted like a normal family. I acted like their mother," Ko told the Washington Post. "I encouraged him to bring his friends home because we wanted them to live a normal life. I made snacks for the kids. They ate cake and played with Legos." The family made frequent trips to Disneyland in Paris and went skiing in the Alps, Ko said.

Kim Jong Nam, Bruder von Nordkoreas Diktator Kim Jong Un
A childhood photograph of Kim Jong Un's elder brother, Kim Jong NamImage: AFP/Getty Images

Kim was obsessed with basketball and slept with his ball at night. He loved trying to figure out how machines worked. "He wasn't a troublemaker, but he was short-tempered and had a lack of tolerance," Ko said. "When his mother tried to tell him off for playing with these things too much and not studying enough, he wouldn't talk back but he would protest in other ways, like going on a hunger strike."

Ko said it was impossible for the leader to grow up normally, knowing he would inherit North Korea from his father, Ko said.

Defecting to the US

In the late 1990s, Kim Jong Un's mother fell sick with breast cancer. Ko Yong Suk and her husband told the Washington Post that the cancer treatment in Europe was not working and the defection was to try and save the leader's mother.

However, the Post's reporters also mentioned stories about the couple in South Korean media, which indicated the couple sought asylum in the US because they were worried about their future after either of Kim Jong Un's parents died.

Nord-Korea Kim Jong-il gestorben
Former North Korean leader and Kim Jong Un's father Kim Jong IlImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Ko and her husband Ri applied for asylum at the US embassy in Bern in 1998, saying they were North Korean diplomats. They were then taken to a US military base near Frankfurt in Germany and questioned for several months.

Once in the United States, they spent some days in the Washington area and soon shifted to a place with very few Asians. Ko opened a small store and Ri did jobs that were easy to do without English, dedicating most of their lives to their children's upbringing.

Ri told Washington Post reporters that he would like to go back to North Korea and help build a bridge between Pyongyang and the US. Ko said she never wanted to return. The newspaper did not reveal where exactly they lived in the US.

mg/rc (dpa)