North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is ‘alive and well’, a South Korean official has said.
Foreign policy adviser Chung-in Moon said his government’s position is firmly that the despot is not dead.
The aide said Kim had been living in the Wonsan area of the country since April 13, adding to Fox: ‘No suspicious movements have so far been detected.’
Rumours of his death emerged from the vice director of Hong Kong Satellite Television Shijian Xingzou, who claimed a ‘very solid source’ told her Kim was dead.
She has 15million followers on Chinese social media Weibo, and is also the niece of one of the country’s foreign ministers.
Separately, a Japanese media outlet claimed Kim was in a ‘vegetative state’ after he underwent heart surgery earlier in the month.
The despot has not been seen publicly since April 11 when he led a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party committee of policy makers, North Korean state media said.
But Chung-in Moon’s comments appear to have poured cold water on the astonishing claims that he had passed away.
North Korean defectors agree, saying it is hard to believe the information would be leaked by his trusted aides.
Joo Sung-ha, a North Korean defector turned journalist, said in a Facebook post reported by the New York Times that it was reasonable to believe Kim had health problems, but that he had zero trust in reports why the leader has faced a medical emergency. ‘The health of the Kim family is the secret among secrets,’ he said.
Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who also defected, said it was hard to believe any reliable information about Kim had been leaked by his most trusted aids.
He said while he worked in the country no one was aware of Kim Jong-il’s death until 2011, when they gathered in an auditorium and saw an announcer dressed in black.
North Korea has never said who would succeed Kim if he died, but analysts believe his sister Kim Yo-Jong would likely take over until his children grow up.
The dictator’s 250-metre-long train has been seen near his Wonsan holiday complex on satellite images as recently as April 23, according to news website 38North.
It was parked at a station reserved for the Kim family. The website said although the dictator’s whereabouts remain unknown, the trains position suggests he has visited the resort.
The most recent photos, from April 23, show the train preparing for departure.
Kim’s private jet, frequently used for trips to Wonsan, remains on the runway in Pyongyang, South Korean broadcaster SBS reported.
The Wonsan complex includes nine large guesthouses and recreation centre, as well as a shooting range and covered dock believed to be for a yacht.
At the centre of the grounds is a large building that was constructed shortly after Kim Jong-un came to power in 2014.
US Senator Lindsey Graham added to speculation of his death, telling Fox News last night he believes reports on the leader’s health.
He said: ‘Well, it’s a closed society, I don’t know anything directly. But I’d be shocked if he’s not dead or in some incapacitated state because you don’t let rumours like this go forever or go unanswered in a closed society, which is really a cult, not a country, called North Korea.
‘So I pretty well believe he is dead or incapacitated.
Kim Jong Un’s last known movements
April 11 – The dictator presides over a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party committee of policymakers. His most recent public appearance
April 15 – Kim is absent from celebrations for North Korea’s founding father and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung
April 21 – First reports surface claiming the dictator has received heart surgery from South Korean-based publication Daily NK
April 23 – Kim’s private train is spotted near his holiday resort in Wonsan on satellite images. It is at a station reserved for use by the Kim family, prompting rumours that he has travelled to the destination
April 23 – Chinese doctors reportedly arrive in North Korea around this time to treat the dictator. China is yet to confirm or deny the reports
‘And I hope the long-suffering North Korean people will get some relief if he is dead, and President Trump’s willing to do business with North Korea in a win-win fashion.
‘So, if this guy is dead, I hope the next person who takes over will work with President Trump to make North Korea a better place for everybody.’
Senator Graham has regularly made comments on the state of North Korea’s regime and is seen as an influential policy adviser to President Trump.
He has praised the President’s handling of the North Korea crisis and decision to hold talks aimed at denuclearising the peninsula.
Graham’s declarations followed the news that Kim Jon-Un had failed to appear for a national holiday – Military Foundation Day – on Saturday.
Despite the suspect absence, a senior Pentagon official said US intelligence had found no sign of unusual military activity in North Korea that would suggest something was awry.
An anonymous source told Newsweek: ‘Regional militarizes in the Western Pacific and Asia, including those of our partner nations, remain at readiness levels consistent with historical norms.
‘We have observed no indications or received any additional information to make a conclusive assessment on the status of North Korean leadership or health of Kim Jong-un.’
The official said the Pentagon continues to monitor the situation very closely, but also remarked speculations surrounding Kim’s health may not be completely unfounded.
Citing the presence of the dictator’s train at his Wonsan compound and his uncharacteristic failure to attend two major national events, the official claimed there is ‘certainly credibility to report that [Kim] is either in a serious health condition or potentially deceased.
The official added: ‘Since he is perceived as a deity in NK, his death would instantly trigger nationwide indications, so there is potential that the government had delayed an announcement in order to have everything in place to maintain security across the country.’
Chung-in Moon was not the only one to downplay speculation about his death.
US President Donald Trump also downplayed reports Kim was gravely ill on April 23.
‘I think the report was incorrect,’ Trump told reporters, but he declined to say if he had been in touch with North Korean officials.