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Doubts Arise Over N. Korean Leader’s Appearance

Posted October. 06, 2008 09:37,   


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who was reportedly recovering from surgery after suffering a stroke in August, has appeared in public for the first time in nearly two months.

The (North) Korean Central News Agency said Saturday that Kim watched a college soccer match marking the 62nd anniversary of Kim Il Sung University.

His last reported public appearance was August 14 to a military unit before rumors spread over his ill health.

The report said Kim attended the match with top officials from the Workers’ Party’s central committee, but did not mention the date and venue.

Kim was quoted as saying, “Our revolutionary and militant college students have not only devoted their wisdom and passion to scientific research, but also showed good performance in art and sports.”

The report could signal Kim’s return to work as he seems healthy enough to make public appearances and express his thoughts. With his recovery, South Korean experts said follow-up reports will ensue on his onsite inspections or tours.

The validity of the reports remains questionable, however, as the game was not broadcast on TV and no video footage of Kim was released.

Many experts in South Korea said the North’s failure to use the occasion to promote Kim’s health could indicate how serious his condition is.

Others predicted that North Korean media might not have closely followed Kim’s visit since it was spontaneous.

The lack of details on when and where the game was held also raises questions over the reports. The university celebrates its founding on October 1, when the entire student body participates in a sporting festival. Past records show it did not hold soccer matches with other universities that day.

At the same time, the number of seats at the university’s sports arena is too small to accommodate Kim and his entourage. Thus the game is assumed to have been held between Thursday and Saturday either at Kim Il Sung Stadium or May 1 Stadium, where the communist regime held its 60th anniversary last month.

Kim might have picked a soccer match to make a public appearance since he could sit down, unlike at other official events, and stay away from the spotlight since spectators would be immersed in the game.

Since no evidence can prove Kim’s appearance at the game other than the report, speculation is growing that his visit was a politically crafted rumor to contain anxiety among North Koreans and promote the image of a “healthy regime” to the world.

A researcher at a state-sponsored institution in Seoul said, “Kim might not have attended the game at all. Experts are waiting to see what kind of video footage or photos North Korea will provide to prove that Kim is healthy.”

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