North Korea first lady Ri Sol Ju makes rare appearance

Ri appeared alongside her husband Kim Jong Un to congratulate the team responsible for the launch of the Kwangmyongsong-4, a North Korean satellite.
By Elizabeth Shim  |  Feb. 15, 2016 at 12:27 PM
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SEOUL, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- North Korea's first lady, Ri Sol Ju, made her first public appearance in four months during festivities that commemorated Pyongyang's recent satellite launch.

Ri appeared alongside her husband Kim Jong Un to congratulate the North Korean team responsible for the launch of the Kwangmyongsong-4, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported.

North Korea's state-controlled newspaper Rodong Sinmun did not report her Saturday attendance until Monday. Ri last appeared in public on Oct. 19, during celebrations of the ruling Workers' Party's 70th anniversary.

The image of Ri that ran in the North Korean newspaper showed her in a traditional Korean dress. Kim and Ri later watched a performance of the all-women Moranbong Band – the same orchestra that abruptly left China in December after a dispute between a band member and Chinese officials reportedly led to a cancellation of its "friendship" tour.

Ri's attire on Saturday did not include the upscale accessories she has worn in past appearances. Ri and Kim are both known for their fondness for luxury brands – including Swiss watches and French handbags.

The Kim family's penchant for luxury goes hand in hand with the regime's system for sending forced laborers abroad to earn hundreds of millions of dollars to finance Kim's upscale lifestyle, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported.

Pyongyang sends North Koreans abroad to not only work as manual laborers but also as doctors, engineers, and commissioned artists in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, to work at construction sites, state-run restaurants and factories.

According to Italian media, the forced labor system has been in place since the 1950s, when North Korea founder Kim Il Sung promised the former Soviet Union to supply a labor force in a show of solidarity.

North Korea Human Rights Database Center, a South Korean nongovernment organization, has previously stated 50,000-60,000 workers are working abroad for the regime, with about 20,000 stationed in Russia, 19,000 in China, 4,000-5,000 in Kuwait and about 2,000 in the United Arab Emirates.

They earn up to $1.3 billion for the regime, NKDB stated.

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