N. Korea's Kim married in 2009: Seoul lawmaker

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has been married since 2009 and his wife once visited South Korea, a Seoul lawmaker said Thursday, a day after the secretive North first disclosed the match.

Kim has been the subject of intense foreign interest since he took over the impoverished but nuclear-armed nation after his father Kim Jong-Il died suddenly last December.

But even his exact age is unknown outside the North, although he is thought to be in his late twenties, and his marriage to Ri Sol-Ju had been a closely guarded secret.

Legislator Jung Chung-Rai, citing what he said was information given to a closed parliamentary session by the South's National Intelligence Service (NIS), said Ri was born in 1989 and had studied singing in China.

Jung said Ri had visited Incheon, west of Seoul, in September 2005 as a member of her country's cheering squad for the Asian Athletics Championships.

The North's regime is bitterly hostile to the South's government, threatening "sacred war" over perceived insults to the Kim dynasty which has ruled the North since its founding in 1948.

An NIS spokesman declined to disclose what was said in the closed meeting.

Ri, a stylish short-haired young woman usually wearing high heels, has been pictured several times this month accompanying Kim.

The North's state media disclosed Wednesday she is his wife, without giving further details. But the mere fact that the couple were pictured in public marked a new departure for the regime.

Kim's youth and inexperience had raised questions about the country's second dynastic succession.

In public, he has presented a relaxed and confident image in an apparent attempt to emphasise his readiness to rule. The disclosure of the marriage was seen as part of the process.

While Kim Jong-Il's wives were never pictured at official functions, "the regime is now facing a different situation, and the move is part of work to make Kim Jong-Un appear old and wise enough to rule", said Seoul-based online newspaper the Daily NK.

The aim is partly to show "he is not a child", said Chang Yong-Suk, of the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

"If he went around alone, people would look down on him as a young lad, but with his wife present, he could show he is the head of the family and also an adult," Chang told AFP.

South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, and other media, said Ri is believed to be a former singer who came to the young Kim's notice during a performance.

JoongAng said Kim's father had singled her out as a potential first lady while working on his succession plan.

The Kim Il-Sung University graduate is from the northeastern province of North Hamkyong and her father is an academic and mother a doctor, the paper said.

Kim appears fully in charge of his country, despite speculation he would rely on close advisers because of his youth and inexperience, the International Crisis Group think-tank said in a report this week.

But it said there was nothing to suggest he would take measures to improve the lot of his people amid severe food shortages, or reduce regional frictions over the North's nuclear and missile programmes.

The United States took the opportunity to reiterate concerns about the plight of North Koreans under the Kim dynasty.

"We would always wish any kind of newly-weds well as they embark" on married life, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

"But obviously our concerns first and foremost are for the North Korean people, and our hope that conditions for them will improve."

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