Dead or alive? Health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a hot topic

The health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un remained a mystery Sunday, but satellite images showed his train apparently traveled to a resort town in recent days, The Washington Post reported.

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The images showed Kim’s train Thursday at the coastal resort town of Wonsan, and officials in South Korea and the United States believe he is still alive and remain skeptical about reports of his death, the newspaper reported.

“We understand that Chairman Kim Jong Un has been in Wonsan this week,” a South Korean official, who requested anonymity, told the Post.

Rumors of Kim’s death increased Saturday amid reports from several media outlets. Kim’s last official public appearance was April 11, The New York Times reported. According to North Korean state media reports, he presided over a meeting of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party committee of policymakers.

Because North Korea tightly controls its flow of information, it was inevitable rumors would mount.

Several reports noted that Kim, 36, is either recovering from a sprained ankle or is in “in grave danger” after heart surgery, the Times reported. Other sources reported Kim has become “brain dead” or is in a “vegetative state” after a botched heart-valve surgery. Still other rumors portray Kim as a victim of the coronavirus, which he contracted after coming in contact Chinese doctors who participated in the alleged heart surgery.

Speculation about Kim’s health ramped up when he missed state celebrations for North Korea’s biggest holiday April 15 -- the birthday of Kim Il Sung, his grandfather and the founder of the nation, the Post reported.

“North Korea’s secrecy and our lack of reliable information create a breeding ground for rumors,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul," told the Times. “But his continued absence would be destabilizing as more people in and outside the country wonder if he is incapacitated or dead.”

Kim has been out of the public eye for an extended period on other occasions. He disappeared for three weeks, starting with a Lunar New Year concert Jan. 25 and another event to mark his father’s birthday, the Post reported. He then ducked back into seclusion before offering “guidance” for military training Feb. 28, the newspaper reported, citing state media reports.

“His absence from the Kumsusan Palace on Kim Il Sung’s birthday was unusual, but that alone is not evidence enough to say Kim Jong Un is in trouble,” Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former North Korea open source intelligence analyst for the U.S. government, told the Post.

The pattern is similar to Kim’s grandfather. In 1986 a South Korean newspaper reported that Kim Il Sung died in an armed attack, the Times reported. The aging leader emerged two days later, the newspaper reported.

Details about “the health of the Kim family is the secret among secrets,” Joo Sung Ha, a journalist for the South Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo who defected from North Korea, told the Times.

He called people who claim to know Kim’s health situation, “novelists.”