South Korea downplayed a report on Tuesday that the leader of the North, KimJongUn, was being treated after an operation as speculation rose over his absence from a key anniversary.
Pyongyang celebrated the birthday of his late founder, Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15 – by far the most important date on his annual political calendar – but Kim was not seen.
Daily NK, an online media outlet mainly run by North Korean defectors, said Kimhad had undergone cardiovascular surgery earlier this month and is recovering in a villa in North Phyongan province.
“Excessive smoking, obesity and fatigue were the direct causes of Kim’s urgent cardiovascular treatment,” said an unidentified source inside the country.
No confirmation of the report was immediately available.
But that sparked widespread speculation, CNN quoted an American official as saying that Washington “was monitoring information” that Kim was “in grave danger after an operation”. The report did not specify what the information consisted of.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Presidential Blue House in the South said: “We have nothing to confirm and no special movements have been detected in North Korea yet.”
Some South Korean officials have expressed doubts about the credibility of the supply.
Reporting from the interior of the isolated country is notoriously difficult, especially with regard to the direction of the North, which is one of its most closely guarded secrets.
The Ministry of Unification – which deals with inter-Korean relations – and the Ministry of Defense declined to comment.
Moon Chung-in, the security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told AFP that he had heard nothing about Kim’s health.
Northern state media last reported on Kim’s activities on April 12, but previous absences from her in the public eye also sparked speculation about her health.
Analysts have expressed caution regarding the Daily NK report.
Ahn Chan-il, a defector who became a researcher based in Seoul, said that heart surgery required sophisticated medical equipment “accessible only in Pyongyang facilities”, adding that it was “unreasonable” to transport it elsewhere for the operation .
“Nothing is confirmed at this point, and it is too early to draw a conclusion about his condition,” he added.