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(2nd LD) N. Korean band leader appears in China after execution rumors

All Headlines 17:37 December 11, 2015

(ATTN: ADDS comments from China's foreign ministry, details in last 5 paras)

BEIJING, Dec. 11 (Yonhap) -- Hyon Song-wol, leader of North Korea's all-female propaganda band, appeared in public Friday, quelling a series of rumors and many media reports that she was executed in 2013.

Hyon heads the Moranbong Band, hand-picked by North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un, who sent the band to Beijing on Thursday for a six-day "friendship" tour, in an apparent move that indicates that once-strained ties between the allies are warming.

Upon her arrival Friday morning at a luxury hotel in central Beijing where members of the band are staying, Hyon greeted reporters with a "Hello."

Asked about the rumors, Hyon replied with a grin, "Where do you come from?"

Repeatedly asked by reporters about the band's three days of performances, she was tight-lipped and got on an elevator.

Hyon had been rumored to have been executed in 2013 for reportedly making and distributing pornographic videotapes. However, North Korea's state media reported in May last year that Hyon made a speech at a conference.

The band, known for its interpretive performances of the totalitarian state's propaganda songs and Western pop music, including the "Theme from Rocky," was formed in 2012 following an order by Kim.

It will perform for three days at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing starting Saturday, marking its first performance in a foreign country.

The band's "friendship performances," described by North Korea's state media, are the latest sign that Pyongyang is trying to mend ties with Beijing after years of strain following the North's third nuclear test in early 2013.

Since Liu Yunshan, the Chinese Communist Party's fifth-ranked official, visited Pyongyang in October and held talks with North Korean leader Kim, there have been signs of improvement in bilateral ties.

On Friday, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that Beijing hopes to deepen mutual understanding and friendship with Pyongyang throughout the North Korean band's performances in Beijing.

"North Korea is a close neighbor of China. We would like to continue with our friendly cooperation with North Korea as it serves the interests of the two countries and contributes to peace and stability of the region," Hua said.

The band's performances "helps increase mutual understanding and friendship" between North Korea and China, Hua said.

The performances will not be open to the public and are invitation-only, an official at the Chinese theater said.

Asked how a ticket can be acquired for the performances, Hua replied, "With regard to whether anyone can get a ticket, I don't know. I also don't have one."


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