North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is 'alive and well', says South Korea

27 April 2020, 12:44

Kim Jong Un is said to be "alive and well"
Kim Jong Un is said to be "alive and well". Picture: Getty

By Maddie Goodfellow

South Korea has issued a statement that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is "alive and well" following rumours about his health.

It follows a series of conflicting accounts about the leader's whereabouts and health, after he was last seen in public on 11 April.

Rumours had been circulating about the health condition of the North Korean leader but Moon Chung-in, South Korean President Moon Jae-in's top foreign policy advisor, said Kim Jong Un is "well".

He told CNN: "Our government position is firm.

"Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since 13 April. No suspicious movements have so far been detected."

Kim Jong Un was last seen in public on 11 April
Kim Jong Un was last seen in public on 11 April. Picture: PA

The North Korean leader was last seen in public on 11 April.

But he was notably absent when the country celebrated the birthday of his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung just four days later.

The annual commemoration is North Korea's most important event, and Mr Kim, 36, had not missed it since inheriting power from his father in late 2011.

North Korea's state media on Wednesday said Mr Kim sent a message thanking Syria's president for conveying greetings on his grandfather's birthday, but did not report any other activities.

Last week, CNN reported that Kim was in "grave danger" following a surgical procedure, citing an anonymous US official.

Imagery has also found a train likely belonging to the dictator, showing that he is staying outside the capital Pyongyang, according to a website specialising in studies of the country.

North Korean authorities have said nothing to counter media reports that Mr Kim is unwell, prompting concerns about who is next in line to run a nuclear-armed country that has been ruled by the same family for seven decades.

The satellite photos provided by website 38 North and Airbus show the train has been parked at Mr Kim's compound in Wonsan on his country's east coast since at least April 21.

The photos do not provide any clarity over Mr Kim's health, but they do confirm South Korean government intelligence that he is staying outside of the capital, Pyongyang.

North Korea has not yet commented on the rumours
North Korea has not yet commented on the rumours. Picture: PA

Mr Kim has been out of the public eye for extended periods in the past, and North Korea's secretive nature allows few outsiders to assert confidently whether he might be unwell, let alone incapacitated.

Still, questions about the North's political future are likely to grow if he fails to attend forthcoming public events.

Mr Kim is the third generation of his family to rule North Korea, and a strong personality cult has been built around him, his father and grandfather.

The family's mythical "Paektu" bloodline, named after the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, is said to give only direct family members the right to rule the nation.

That makes Mr Kim's younger sister, senior ruling party official Kim Yo Jong, the most likely candidate to step in if her brother is gravely ill, incapacitated or dies.

But some experts say a collective leadership, which could end the family's dynastic rule, could also be possible.

A collective leadership would likely be headed by Choe Ryong Hae, North Korea's ceremonial head of state who officially ranks No.2 in the country's current power hierarchy, Mr Nam said.

But Mr Choe is still not a Kim family member, and that could raise questions about his legitimacy and put North Korea into deeper political chaos, according to other observers.

Other Kim family members who might take over include Kim Pyong Il, the 65-year-old half-brother of Kim Jong Il, who reportedly returned home in November after decades in Europe as a diplomat.