North Korea leader Kim Jong Un's aunt alive: South Korean intelligence

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (centre) supervises an expanded meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Feb 18, 2015. The once powerful aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is still a
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (centre) supervises an expanded meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Feb 18, 2015. The once powerful aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is still alive despite her extended absence from public view. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

SEOUL (AFP) - The once powerful aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is still alive despite her extended absence from public view since her husband was executed, South Korea's spy agency said on Tuesday.

The whereabouts and status of Kim Kyong Hui, 68, have been a focus of media attention after her husband Jang Song Thaek was executed in late 2013 on an array of charges, including treason and corruption.

Her long absence from public occasions had sparked speculation she may have fallen ill, with one leading South Korean newspaper suggesting she may already be dead.

But the South's National Intelligence Service (NIS) on Tuesday refuted reports that she had died, Yonhap news agency reported.

"They said she's alive," Shin Kyoung Min, a ruling party legislator was quoted as saying in a parliamentary intelligence committee meeting, without elaborating.

Kim Kyong Hui had wielded influence in her supporting role under the leadership of her brother and late leader Kim Jong Il.

She and her husband were also seen as instrumental in smoothing her nephew Kim Jong Un's transition to power, before Jang fell from grace.

The Kim family has ruled reclusive, impoverished North Korea for more than six decades with an iron fist and a pervasive personality cult.