BEIJING (Reuters) - An all-female North Korean pop band formed by leader Kim Jong Un abruptly canceled a Beijing concert on Saturday and headed back home to Pyongyang, Chinese media and the concert venue said.
The Moranbong Band was visiting China along with North Korea's State Merited Chorus and was due to perform later on Saturday at Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts.
The band is Kim's pet project as he tries to put his own personal stamp on the North Korean arts, and the short haircuts of the group's young women members are trend-setting in the capital Pyongyang.
A member of staff who answered the telephone at the venue said the show had been canceled due to "some unknown reason".
Chinese magazine Caijing reported on its microblog that the women had left Beijing while online Chinese news portal Sohu said they had flown back to Pyongyang, the stage they were due to perform on having been dismantled.
Pictures obtained by Reuters showed the band leaving their hotel in Beijing around noon on Saturday, their baggage with them.
It was due to be their first overseas appearance. Chinese state media said they were due to give three concerts in Beijing.
There was no immediate word from North Korea on their sudden departure.
The band's China visit had been seen as an indication of improving relations between China and its isolated neighbor.
China is North Korea's main economic and diplomatic backer, but was infuriated in 2013 when Kim ordered the carrying out of the country's third nuclear test.
Several subsequent rounds of saber rattling by Pyongyang have also tested Beijing's patience.
On Friday, North Korea's official KCNA news agency lauded the attention the band's arrival in China was drawing, saying world media "vie with each other to report about the China visit".
The ensemble, whose members were reportedly handpicked by Kim, was formed in 2012.
"In July three years ago, Kim Jong Un watched a demonstration performance of the Moranbong Band and appreciated it for having greatly improved all the musical elements - from theme and formation to arrangement, composition of instruments, technical skill and representation," KCNA said earlier in the week.
Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Additional reporting by Tony Munroe and James Pearson in SEOUL; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Ros Russell