North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his aunt Kim Kyong Hui in 2012, after the elder Kim experienced inexplicable weight loss. Photo by KCNA/Yonhap
SEOUL, May 11 (UPI) -- A high-level defector said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had poisoned his aunt Kim Kyong Hui not long after executing her husband, Jang Song Thaek. The news, however, is being challenged by sources inside North Korea.
The South Korea-based dissident, identified only by the surname Park, told CNN on Monday that Kim Jong Un ordered his aunt executed last May.
The testimony contradicts details from a South Korean intelligence report in February, Yonhap reported.
According to Seoul, the North Korean leader's 68-year-old aunt was believed to be alive, despite being missing from public events.
That claim found support on Tuesday, when South Korea-based Daily NK reported a source in Pyongyang said Kim Kyong Hui is alive and recovering from alcoholism-related illness at Bonghwa Clinic, the same hospital where Kim Jong Un underwent ankle surgery in 2014.
Kim Jong Un had requested his aunt stay out of the spotlight after Jang's execution, the source said.
The source said Kim Jong Un frequently reaches out to his aunt, and that they maintain amicable relations. The North Korean leader has told hospital staff to take good care of his aunt, the source said, and that he visits her when he can.
Another source said Kim Kyong Hui often turns down visits from her nephew after the execution of her husband.
Since late 2013, when her husband was executed on charges that included treason and corruption, the elder Kim has been absent from special occasions – which sparked speculation she may have died not long after her husband.
Kim Kyong Hui is a blood relation of Kim Jong Un, the sister of former leader Kim Jong Il.
Friction between Kim Jong Un and his uncle may have begun over key economic issues, Park told CNN.
Jang wanted to address critical issues facing the North Korean economy but Kim wanted to develop a ski resort and a water park for leisurely activities.
Kim's passion for skiing dates back to his days at a private school in Switzerland, Park said.
"Jang Song Thaek initially agreed...but suggested building the economy first," the defector said. "That is where the friction began."
Park has also claimed that while Kim Kyong Hui was killed in a secret room, 30 aides of Jang and his wife were publicly executed by a firing squad that sometimes used four-barrel machine guns.