There is confusion about the health of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un after conflicting reports in the far east emerged claiming he was “seriously ill” and had died.
The US is said to be monitoring intelligence suggesting Kim was in danger after undergoing surgery. Kim had missed a celebration marking his grandfather’s birthday on April 15, fuelling speculation about his wellbeing.
A Hong Kong broadcaster HKSTV said sources had informed it the North Korean leader was dead. However, this conflicted with separate reports in Japan claiming Kim was in “a vegetative state” after complications arising from undergoing heart surgery.
None of the claims have been independently confirmed, nor has there been any confirmation or discussion about Kim’s health by North Korea.
News agency Reuters said China sent medical experts to North Korea this week to check on Kim’s medical condition but it has not been made clear what the trip by the Chinese team signalled in terms of Kim’s health.
A delegation led by a senior member of the Chinese Communist party’s international liaison department left Beijing for North Korea on Thursday, Reuters said.
South Korean government officials and a Chinese official with the liaison department challenged subsequent reports suggesting that Kim was in grave danger after surgery. This followed reports by Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, that Kim was recovering after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure on April 12.
Today a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project said it had reviewed satellite images of a special train, possibly belonging to North Korean leader, at a resort town in the country.
The monitoring project, 38 North, said in a report that the train was parked at the “leadership station” in Wonsan on April 21 and April 23. The station is reserved for the use of the Kim family, it added.
Though the group said it was probably Kim Jong Un’s train, this has not been confirmed independently. It also cannot determine if Kim was in Wonsan with the train.
“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,” a report by the monitoring group said.
Reporting from inside North Korea is notoriously difficult because of tight controls on information.
A third-generation hereditary leader who came to power after his father’s death in 2011, Kim Jong Un has no clear successor in a nuclear-armed country, which could present major international risk. However, his sister Kim Yo-Jong is said to be an important figure the supreme leader has confidence in. She is understood to be the most natural successor.
Daily NK cited one unnamed source in North Korea last Monday saying Kim had undergone medical treatment in a resort county north of Pyongyang. Since then, multiple South Korean media reports have cited unnamed sources last week saying that Kim might be staying in the Wonsan area.