South Korean officials are calling for caution amid reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be ill, emphasising that they have detected no unusual movements in North Korea.
At a closed door forum on Sunday, South Korea’s Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees engagement with the North, said the government has the intelligence capabilities to say with confidence that there was nothing unusual happening.
Rumours and speculation over the North Korean leader’s health began after he made no public appearance at a key state holiday on April 15, and has since remained out of sight.
South Korea media last week reported that Kim may have undergone cardiovascular surgery or was in isolation to avoid exposure to the new coronavirus.
On Monday, North Korean state media once again showed no new photos of Kim nor reported on his whereabouts.
The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported that Kim had sent a message of thanks to workers on the giant Wonsan Kalma coastal tourism project.
It was the latest in a series of reports in recent days of statements issued or actions taken in Kim’s name, although none has carried any pictures of him.
“Our government position is firm,” Moon Chung-in, the top foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said in comments to news outlets in the United States.
“Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”
Satellite images from last week showed a special train possibly belonging to Kim at Wonsan, lending weight to those reports, according to 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project.
Though the group said it was probably the North Korean leader’s personal train, Reuters has not been able to confirm that independently, or whether he was in Wonsan.
A spokeswoman for the Unification Ministry said on Monday she had nothing to confirm when asked about reports that Kim was in Wonsan.
Last week China dispatched a team to North Korea including medical experts to advise on Kim Jong Un, according to three people familiar with the situation.
Reuters was unable to immediately determine what the trip by the Chinese team signalled in terms of Kim’s health.
On Friday a South Korean source told Reuters their intelligence was that Kim Jong Un was alive and would likely make an appearance soon.
Experts have cautioned that Kim has disappeared from state media coverage before, and that gathering accurate information in North Korea is notoriously difficult.
North Korea’s state media last reported on Kim’s whereabouts when he presided over a meeting on April 11.
Kim, believed to be 36, vanished from state media for more than a month in 2014 and North Korean state TV later showed him walking with a limp.
(with inputs from AFP)
You have reached your limit for free articles this month.
Register to The Hindu for free and get unlimited access for 30 days.
Subscription Benefits Include
Find mobile-friendly version of articles from the day’s newspaper in one easy-to-read list.
Enjoy reading as many articles as you wish without any limitations.
A select list of articles that match your interests and tastes.
Move smoothly between articles as our pages load instantly.
A one-stop-shop for seeing the latest updates, and managing your preferences.
We brief you on the latest and most important developments, three times a day.
Not convinced? Know why you should pay for news.
*Our Digital Subscription plans do not currently include the e-paper ,crossword, iPhone, iPad mobile applications and print. Our plans enhance your reading experience.