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The last time North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was publicly spotted was on April 11, but after his public absence on the national holiday commemorating the birthday of his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, rumors have circulated on the whereabouts of the younger Kim.
Yesterday also marked the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean armed forces, another major public event that the North Korean leader has usually made a point to attend.
Reuters reported late last week that China had dispatched a team, consisting of medical experts, to North Korea to advise on North Korean President Kim Jong Un’s health situation.
The speculation, in concert with the fact that North Korea is so secretive that United States intelligence didn’t learn about the 2011 death of Kim Jong Il until 48 hours had passed, has sent the rumor mill surrounding Kim Jong Un’s health into overdrive.
Many of the rumors have been sparked by North Korean defectors.
Last Monday the Daily NK, a newspaper based in Seoul but run by North Korean defectors, reported that Kim Jong Un had had surgery on April 12 and was in recovery.
CNN then reported that according to anonymous sources within US intelligence, the leader was not doing well and was in “grave danger,” an assertion later repeated by other American media outlets like Fox News. Even TMZ, a celebrity-news tabloid website in the US, got in on the act, reporting, “N. Korea dictator Kim Jong Un reportedly dead after botched heart surgery.”
On Friday, April 24, the Japanese magazine Sh?kan Gendai claimed that their reporters had gotten hold of one of the Chinese doctors who had traveled to the isolated nation. This doctor allegedly claimed that Kim was in a “vegetative state” due to complications that arose during the procedure.
Leaders, including US President Donald Trump who wished Kim well during a press briefing, have remained vague when asked about the matter. South Korea has also pushed back, stating that there is no evidence of a dire prognosis or death.
Commercial Satellite imagery started circulating on Saturday when a train, believed to belong to Kim, was found parked in Wonsan, reportedly a favorite missile testing site for the leader. It was reported to have been parked there since Tuesday, April 21.
On April 26, CNN quoted Moon Chung-in, the top foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, as saying, “Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected."
History of speculation
This would not be the first time that Kim has disappeared for long stretches of time.
In 2014, the leader disappeared for over a month only to resurface wielding a cane. In 2015, a North Korean defector claimed that Kim had had his aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, poisoned, but she ended up being spotted in January of the following year.
In 2008, after Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father, disappeared for several months, South Korean analysts and media speculated that he had had a stroke. This turned out to be true.
Kim Jong Il ended up dying three months later.