Kim Jong-un ‘alive and well,’ says South Korea security adviser

‘No suspicious movements’ detected in North Korea as conjecture grows over leader’s absence

As rumors swirl about Kim Jong-un’s location and health, North Korean experts explain us how they collect information about his secretive regime. Video: The New York Times

 

South Korea has said that Kim Jong-un, is “alive and well”, downplaying rumours that that the North Korean leader was seriously ill after undergoing heart surgery.

“Our government position is firm,” Moon Chung-in, a special adviser on national security to the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, said in an interview with CNN on Sunday. “Kim Jong-un is alive and well.”

The adviser said that Mr Kim had been staying in Wonsan - a resort town on the country’s east coast - since April 13th, adding: “No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”

Conjecture about Mr Kim’s health has grown since his conspicuous absence from the April 15th celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il-sung, the North’s founder - the most important day in the country’s political calendar.

Mr Kim has not made a public appearance since presiding over a Korea Workers’ party politburo meeting on April 11th. His absence has unleashed a series of unconfirmed media reports over his condition, but officials in Seoul and Beijing have insisted that there is nothing to suggest Mr Kim is unwell.As the absolute leader of country with a nuclear weapons programme, Mr Kim’s health is matter of intense interest both regionally and globally.

If something were to happen to Mr Kim, some experts have said it could lead to instability in North Korea.

“We have nothing to confirm and no special movement has been detected inside North Korea as of now,” the South’s presidential office said in a statement last week. The office that there had been no emergency readiness order issued by the North’s military or the ruling Workers’ Party that likely would have been made if Mr Kim were truly in a bad condition.

Speculation about Mr Kim grew after Daily NK, a Seoul-based online media outlet that employs North Korean defectors, claimed he was recovering after undergoing a “cardiovascular procedure” earlier this month.

Citing a single unidentified source inside the country, it said Mr Kim, who is believed to be 36, had required urgent treatment due to heavy smoking, obesity and fatigue.

Soon afterwards, CNN reported that Washington was “monitoring intelligence” that Mr Kim was in “grave danger” after undergoing surgery, quoting what it said was an anonymous US official.

The US president, Donald Trump, on Thursday rejected reports that Mr Kim was ailing but declined to state when he was last in contact with him.

On Monday, North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported that Mr Kim had sent a message of thanks to workers on the giant Wonsan Kalma coastal tourism project. State media have carried several reports in recent days referring to statements or actions taken in Mr Kim’s name, although none has been accompanied by pictures of the leader.

Satellite images reviewed by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, showed that a train thought to belong to Mr Kim had been parked at his compound in Wonsan for several days.

Citing an analysis of recent satellite photos of the area, 38 North said at the weekend that the 250m-long train was not present on April 15th but was seen at the “leadership station” on both April 21st and 23rd .

The site said the train appeared to have been repositioned for departure on the latter date, but added that there had been no indication of when it might leave. The station is reserved for the use of the Mr Kim family, it added.

“The train’s presence does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader or indicate anything about his health but it does lend weight to reports that Kim is staying at an elite area on the country’s eastern coast,” the 38 North report said.

Reporting from inside the isolated North is notoriously difficult, particularly when it comes to the regime’s leadership.

This is not the first time Mr Kim’s absence from public life has sparked rumours about his health. He dropped out of sight in late 2014 but reappeared more than five weeks later using a walking stick. Days later, South Korea’s spy agency said he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.–Guardian and Reuters