North Korean state media on Wednesday made no mention of new appearances by leader Kim Jong Un, a day after intense international speculation over his health was sparked by media reports he was gravely ill after a cardiovascular procedure.
South Korean and Chinese officials and sources familiar with U.S. intelligence have cast doubt on the South Korean and U.S. media reports, while the White House said it was closely monitoring the matter.
Speculation about Kim’s health first arose due to his absence from the anniversary of the birthday of North Korea’s founding father and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15.
On Wednesday, the main headlines from KCNA included pieces on sports equipment, mulberry picking, and a meeting in Bangladesh to study North Korea’s “juche” or self-reliance ideology. Official Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried articles on a self-sufficient economy and anti-coronavirus measures.
There was no mention of Kim’s whereabouts.
Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, reported late on Monday that Kim, who is believed to be about 36, was hospitalised on April 12, hours before the cardiovascular procedure.
It said his health had deteriorated since August due to heavy smoking, obesity and overwork.
Citing one unnamed North Korean source it said Kim was now receiving treatment at a villa in the Mount Myohyang resort north of the capital Pyongyang.
On Tuesday, CNN reported an unnamed U.S. official saying that the United States was “monitoring intelligence” that Kim was in grave danger after surgery.
However, two South Korean government officials rejected the CNN report and South Korea’s presidential Blue House said there were no unusual signs from North Korea. China, North Korea’s only major ally, also dismissed the reports.
Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told Fox News the White House was monitoring the reports “very closely”.
Reporting from inside North Korea is notoriously difficult, especially on matters concerning its leadership, given tight controls on information. There have been past false reports regarding its leaders, but the fact Kim has no clear successor means any instability could present a major international risk.
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