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Changes in Photos Could Mean NK Leader Is Ailing

Posted July. 14, 2009 09:13,   


Conspicuous changes in group photos featuring North Korean leader Kim Jong Il are fueling speculation over his ailing health.

Kim has frequently appeared on the front page of the North’s leading daily Rodong Shinmun, the organ of the communist party’s ruling Workers’ Party. He usually appeared in group pictures when visiting military facilities with hundreds or thousands of people. He was always shown standing or sitting in the middle of the first line.

Changes to such pictures, however, have fueled speculation over Kim’s worsening health.

○ Absence of binoculars and rifles

In the past, a soldier standing to Kim’s right held binoculars and another behind him carried a rifle in group pictures. Kim used to present binoculars and rifles to company-level units to encourage them to keep guard against the enemy.

Most group pictures showed the two items, with the exceptions being air and noncombatant units. The two items, however, have not been seen in 20 group pictures released by the newspaper since August last year, when Kim began showing signs of health problems.

The last picture (picture on the left) containing binoculars and a rifle was released Aug. 11 last year. This could mean that the ceremonies of presenting binoculars and rifles might have been omitted since Kim was too weak to pass them on to others.

○ Manipulated photos

The photo of the headquarters of the North’s 7th Infantry released June 15 this year was the same as one with the headquarters of the 851st Unit released April 27. The two photos have the exact same arrangement and postures of hundreds of people, including Kim.

The only difference is that the people standing in the first line have changed their positions. Articles related to the pictures said each of the two units produced 24 heroes in the Korean War.

The Rodong Shinmun apparently manipulated pictures through photo editing programs such as Photoshop to make it appear that Kim has no health problems. North Korea sometimes added artificial factors to “No. 1 Pictures,” referring to photos of the faces of its late leader Kim Il Sung and his son, but did not manipulate them.

Nevertheless, Pyongyang seems to have broken these implicit rules to prove Kim Jong Il is still healthy.

○ Group pictures without Kim Jong Il

The front page of the Feb. 28 edition of the newspaper ran a picture in which participants of the fourth nationwide propaganda campaign stood in front of a large-scale portrait of Kim Il Sung in Kumsusan Palace Square in Pyongyang. The picture contained around 900 people.

Missing in the center of the photo was Kim Jong Il; in his place was the head of the North’s parliament Kim Yong Nam, who is the No. 2 man in Pyongyang’s power hierarchy.

It is very rare for someone other than Kim Jong Il to appear in the middle of such a photo. Certain experts said the picture is a part of the North’s strategy to prepare itself for Kim’s death.