It has been seven months since Ri Sol-ju, the wife of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, was last seen in public.
Ri was last seen touring a health facility and commercial area in Pyongyang on March 28, according to The Independent.
In 2012, Ri was introduced as the first lady as she and her husband inspected the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground. She had appeared in the state media accompanying Kim at concerts, kindergarten visits, and other events, but had not been identified.
Lim Eul-Chul, a North Korea expert at a South Korea university, says that by publicly introducing his wife, "Kim Jong-un is breaking with his father's secrecy-shrouded leadership," and that the move "is a sign that Kim wants to show a more open leadership."
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But Ri's public life did not last long. She fell out of public view in 2012, prompting speculation that she was pregnant. This speculation was confirmed at a 2013 press conference held by Dennis Rodman, former U.S. basketball star and unlikely friend of the Kim regime.
He broke the news to the world that Kim's baby daughter was named Ju-ae, and that he was the first foreigner to hold the new-born. He told the Daily Mail, "I held their baby Ju-ae and spoke with Ms. Ri as well. He's a good dad and has a beautiful family." Rodman seemed to be unaware that the baby had never been seen or spoken of publicly.
Toshimitsu Shigemura, a Tokyo-based professor specializing in the Pyongyang leadership, told The Telegraph that there were "several possible reasons" for her most recent disappearance, "including that she is pregnant, or that there is some sort of problem between [Ri and Kim]."
It's also possible that Ri was close to Jang Song-thaek, Kim's uncle, who was executed in 2013 for treason, and "gnawing at the unity and cohesion of the party."
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Ri's disappearance from the public eye might mean that she is being heavily guarded, according to Shigemura. "There have ... been reports of instability in Pyongyang and even of several attempted attacks, including by factions in the North Korean military."
Another explanation is that Ri had a falling out with Kim's sister, who was put in charge of the regime's propaganda and agitation department, where she is tasked with consolidating her brother's power.
"The belief is that while Mr. Kim lacks political ability," Shigemura said, "she is far more adept at the sort of maneuvering that is required to keep him in power, so that is the task she has taken on."