South Korean officials have quashed reports that circulated overnight that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was gravely ill and possibly even “brain dead”.
A Seoul-based speciality website Daily NK cited unidentified sources inside the isolated state saying Kim is recovering at a villa in the Mount Kumgang resort county of Hyangsan on the east coast after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure at a hospital on April 12.
CNN reported that Kim was in “grave danger” and NBC News then claimed he was “brain dead” though the tweet containing the claim was later deleted “out of an abundance of caution”.
But two South Korean government sources have said none of the reports are true and the presidential Blue House said there are no unusual signs coming from the North.
A US source familiar with internal US government reporting on North Korea backed up the South Korean account and questioned the CNN report that Kim is seriously ill, even though he has been out of the public eye for an extended period.
There has been speculation over Kim’s health after he was absent from an event marking the anniversary of the birthday of its founding father and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15.
On April 12, North Korean state media reported that Kim Jong Un had visited an airbase and observed drills by fighter jets and attack aircraft.
Two days later North Korea launched multiple short-range anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea and Sukhoi jets fired air-to-surface missiles as part of military exercises, South Korea’s military said.
The missile tests were done on the eve of a national holiday in North Korea to celebrate the birthday of Kim Il Sung.
US-North Korea denuclearisation talks stalled at the end of 2019 and analysts say this year’s string of tests and military drills appear aimed at underscoring North Korea’s return to a more hard-line policy.
Reporting from inside North Korea is notoriously difficult, especially on matters concerning the country’s leadership, given tight controls on information.