North Korean leader's aunt defected to US in 1998: Report

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's aunt fled to the United States while looking after her nephew during his time at a Swiss boarding school in the 1990s, a report said on Tuesday.

Ko Yong Suk, who effectively vanished in 1998, had in fact been granted US political asylum, South Korea's JoongAng Daily said, citing a former senior intelligence official and a South Korean diplomat based in Berne at the time.

The newspaper said Ko, who would now be 56, and her husband had cosmetic surgery to conceal their identities and remain under the protection of the US authorities.

Kim Jong Un attended an international school in Berne from 1996-2001 and Ko had been sent to care for him during his studies there.

Ko and her husband reportedly made their initial bid for asylum through the US embassy.

"The United States spirited away the couple without even informing us," the unidentified intelligence official said.

They were first taken to a US military base in Frankfurt and then flown to the United States.

Ko is the younger sister of Kim's mother Ko Yong-hui who died from breast cancer in 2004 aged 51.

Few immediate members of the ruling Kim dynasty live overseas.

The most notable exception is Kim's elder half-brother Kim Jong Nam, who was once considered heir apparent, but who fell out of favour with his father Kim Jong-Il following a botched attempt in 2001 to secretly enter Japan and visit Disneyland.

His family has since lived in virtual exile, in Macau, Singapore and China.

Kim Jong Nam's son Kim Han Sol is currently studying at university in Paris.

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