Denials from Pyongyang
Kim Jong Il Doing Fine, Says North Korea
He may have missed an important military parade, but Kim Jong Il is not dead or even unhealthy, according to North Korean officials -- who suspect the West of conspiracy just for broaching the topic. South Korea, however, believes Kim had a stroke in August.
The North Korean government on Wednesday rejected stories that its leader, Kim Jong Il, was in bad health after he missed a parade on Tuesday to commemorate the nation's 60th anniversary.
The Communist nation's second in command, Kim Yong Nam, told foreign journalists in a rare interview that there was "no problem" with the supreme leader. A senior diplomat, Song Il Ho, was even sharper: "We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot," he said to Japan's Kyodo News agency.
Stories about Kim Jong Il's health were proliferating not just because he missed the parade in Pyongyang, the but because he'd been out of public view since early August, when rumors circulated among American and South Korean intelligence officers that he'd suffered a stroke. Five Chinese specialists reportedly flew to Pyongyang to care for him.
The South Korean government in Seoul assumes Kim has suffered an illness-related "collapse" but believes he hasn't died. "He is certainly still alive," said a South Korean official, according to Yonhap, the national news agency in Seoul.
Other reasons for Kim's absence from the parade on Tuesday might include fear of assassination, by Americans or South Koreans; fear of assassination by his own military; or a simple will to irritate his friends or foes. The government in Pyongyang is shut off from much of the world, except China, and Kim has been known to behave paranoiacally.
North Korea was established as a communist nation in 1948, with Kim's father, Kim Il Sung, as its founding leader. Kim Jong Il took power after his father's death in 1994. The state of his health has been a closely guarded secret for years, and the name of any successor isn't certain. South Korean intelligence claimed in 2006 that Kim's death would lead to a government slowdown in Pyongyang while military officials wrestled for power, perhaps with one of Kim's three known sons.
Pyongyang has been negotiating with the United States and other western governments for years over its
military nuclear program and carried out its first underground nuclear test in 2006. But progress was stalled earlier this year when Pyongyang complained that Washington had not yet removed it from the U.S. terrorism blacklist, as promised.
msm -- with wire reports and reporting by Andreas Lorenz in Beijing