Mystery of Kim Jong Un’s absence ‘solved’ by South Korea
North Korean dictator had operation to remove cyst from ankle, spy agency says
South Korea’s spy agency says it has solved the mystery of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s six-week public absence. This photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on October 26th 2014 shows Kim Jong-un inspecting in Pyongyang. Photograph: KCNA/EPA
South Korea’s spy agency says it has solved the mystery of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s six-week public absence, which set off a frenzy of wild speculation around the world.
The National Intelligence Service told legislators that a foreign doctor operated on Mr Kim in September or October to remove a cyst from his right ankle, according to Park Byeong-seok, an aide for opposition politician Shin Kyung-min.
The aide said the spy agency also told legislators in a closed-door briefing that the cyst could recur because of Mr Kim’s obesity, smoking and heavy public schedule.
After last being seen in state media on September 3rd, Mr Kim reappeared on October 14th hobbling with a cane, but smiling and looking thinner.
The speculation during his absence was particularly intense because of the Kim family’s importance to impoverished, nuclear-armed North Korea. The family has ruled the country since its founding in 1948.
It was not immediately clear how the information was obtained by the spy agency, which has a spotty track record of analysing developments in North Korea.
The agency also said North Korea has expanded five of its political prisoner camps, including the Yodok camp, which was relocated to the north-west city of Kilchu, according to political aide Lim Dae-seong. The spy agency believes the camps hold about 100,000 prisoners, Mr Lim said.
He said the agency also believes that North Korea recently used a firing squad to execute several people who had been close to Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who was considered the country’s number two power before his sudden purge and execution in December 2013.
In an intelligence success, South Korea’s spy agency correctly said Mr Jang had likely been dismissed from his posts before North Korea officially announced his arrest.
However, it received heavy criticism when its director acknowledged that it had ignored intelligence indicating North Korea’s impending shelling of a South Korean island in 2010. It also came under fire because of reports that it only learned of the 2011 death of then leader Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un, more than two days after it occurred when state media announced it to the world.