SEOUL, May 1 (UPI) — Rumors swirled Friday around the health and whereabouts of Kim Jong Un, who has not been seen publicly for 20 days, but one defector said he’s “99 percent” certain the North Korean leader is dead.
Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who became a member this month of South Korea’s National Assembly on elections, told local media Kim died after cardiovascular surgery and that an announcement is coming.
“I’ve been informed that Kim died last weekend,” Ji said, according to a report by Yonhap News Agency Friday. “It is not 100 percent certain, but I can say the possibility is 99 percent. North Korea is believed to be grappling with a complicated succession issue.”
A South Korean parliamentary report Wednesday speculated that Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, may be waiting in the wings to assume leadership of North Korea’s ruling party.
Ji did not reveal where his information came from, but he told broadcaster SBS he trusts his source and an announcement could come as soon as Saturday.
U.S. President Donald Trump repeated claims Thursday he was aware of Kim’s condition.
“I understand what’s going on and I just can’t talk about Kim Jong Un right now,” he told reporters.
“I just hope everything is going to be fine. But I do understand the [Kim] situation very well.”
The president said Monday he was aware of Kim’s condition and expected news in the “not-too-distant future.”
The head of Taiwan’s intelligence agency said Thursday Kim is “sick” and there are contingency plans in place for succession in case of a power vacuum.
National Security Bureau director Chiu Kuo-cheng told lawmakers in the Legislative Yuan he couldn’t reveal his sources but said the information is reliable.
“My answer is from the intelligence that is available and it is not an opinion,” Chiu said, according to the Taipei Times.
Speculation has swirled about Kim’s health since he didn’t attend ceremonies on April 15 for the birth of founder Kim Il Sung, for the first time since he took power in 2012. He was also absent from a celebration for the founding of North Korea’s armed forces last weekend.
A report last week by the Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that receives information from sources inside North Korea, said Kim was being treated at a hospital after a cardiovascular procedure. The article said Kim had the procedure on April 12 at the Hyangsan Clinic, a private hospital for the Kim family in North Pyongyan Province, as a result of “excessive smoking, obesity and overwork.”
CNN reported that Kim was in “grave danger” following surgery. Trump later said the report was “incorrect.”
Reports in South Korean newspapers this week said Kim is self-quarantining because a personal bodyguard contacted COVID-19. They speculated he may have been injured while observing missile tests on April 14
South Korean officials, however, have said there are no indications Kim is in dire health. Presidential adviser Moon Chung-in told CNN he’s “alive and well” at the coastal resort area of Wonsan.
Satellite imagery from 38 North, a website observing developments in North Korea, showed a train parked this week at a station in Wonsan reserved for the Kim family. Luxury boats used by the leader have also been active off the coast of Wonsan in recent weeks, according to satellite imagery analyzed by a North Korea-focused information site.
North Korean media haven’t addressed any of the speculation, instead reporting on correspondence he’s had over the past week with other heads of state, including the presidents of Syria, Cuba and South Africa.
Kim’s last official public appearance was documented in an April 12 photo that showed him inspecting a group of fighter jets at an airfield in western North Korea. He attended a meeting of the ruling party’s political bureau a day earlier, the Korean Central News Agency reported, during which he called for strict measures to contain the coronavirus.
An editorial in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper Friday urged citizens to rally around “the wise leadership of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un” and “faithfully uphold [his] ideas and leadership.”