Fears were growing for Kim Jong-un’s health today after a US official said the dictator could be in ‘grave danger’ after heart surgery – although South Korea has played down the reports.
Washington is monitoring intelligence that Kim is in a critical condition after his operation, CNN quoted an unnamed US official as saying.
Kim, 36, was last seen at a government meeting on April 11, and was mysteriously absent from the celebration of his late grandfather Kim Il-Sung’s birthday on April 15.
Daily NK, an outlet run mostly by North Korean defectors, said Kim had undergone a cardiovascular procedure and was recovering at a villa in North Phyongan province.
It is unclear what would happen next if fears that Kim is ‘incapacitated or worse’ prove correct, but his sister Kim Yo-jong is among the senior politicians who could be in line to take control.
South Korea has today played down the fears over Kim’s health, saying that ‘no special movement has been detected inside North Korea’.
The South’s Yonhap news agency cited an unnamed government official saying that reports Kim was seriously ill were ‘not true’.
The North has imposed even tighter restrictions than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic – although it claims to have no cases.
‘Also, no unusual developments have been detected inside North Korea.’
The Blue House later said Kim was believed to be staying at an unspecified location outside of Pyongyang with some of his close confidants.
A different US official, speaking to the Associated Press, said the White House was already aware of fears about Kim’s health before the latest reports surfaced on Monday night.
The official said the US had information that Kim may have undergone surgery and that complications may have rendered him ‘incapacitated or worse’.
But they stressed that the US had nothing to confirm whether the surgery had taken place or that any complications had occurred.
‘We just don’t know,’ said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The White House and State Department had no comment.
Daily NK, citing unidentified sources inside the isolated state, said Kim was recovering at a villa in the Mount Kumgang resort county of Hyangsan on the east coast after getting the procedure on April 12 at a hospital there.
Kim’s health has deteriorated in recent months due to heavy smoking, obesity and overwork, the Daily NK report said.
‘My understanding is that he had been struggling (with cardiovascular problems) since last August but it worsened after repeated visits to Mount Paektu,’ a source was quoted as saying, referring to the country’s sacred mountain.
The dictator’s health fears come after reports that North Korean authorities had admitted in public lectures that coronavirus was spreading in the country, contradicting the regime’s claims that there are no cases.