Sat, Oct 11, 2014 - Page 4 News List

N Korea’s missing leader has ‘total control’: source

Reuters, BEIJING and SEOUL

North Korean defectors fly balloons carrying anti-North Korean government propaganda leaflets along with US dollar notes and DVDs into North Korea near the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea yesterday.

Photo: EPA

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in firm control of his government, but hurt his leg taking part in a military drill, a source with access to the secretive North’s leadership said, playing down speculation over the 31-year-old’s health and grip on power in the nuclear-capable nation.

North Korea’s state media, which usually chronicle Kim’s activities in great detail, have not mentioned any public appearances since he attended a concert with his wife on Sept. 3 and the official KCNA news agency indicated he did not attend an important political anniversary yesterday.

In the previous two years, Kim marked the anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s Workers’ Party with a post-midnight visit to the Pyongyang mausoleum where the bodies of his father and grandfather are interred, but the report by KCNA did not mention Kim’s name in a list of high-level party and military officials who attended an event at the mausoleum yesterday.

A flower basket from Kim was placed at the mausoleum, it said.

The source with access to the North’s leadership, who has close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing, said on Thursday that Kim had hurt his leg while inspecting military exercises.

“He ordered all the generals to take part in drills and he took part too. They were crawling and running and rolling around, and he pulled a tendon,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “He injured his ankle and knee around late August or early September while drilling because he is overweight. He limped around in the beginning, but the injury worsened.”

Kim, who has rapidly gained weigrlht since coming to power after his father died of a heart attack in 2011, had been seen walking with a limp since an event with important officials in July, which would imply he may have aggravated an earlier injury.

Kim needs about 100 days to recuperate, said the source, whose information could not be independently verified.

“Kim Jong-un is in total control,” the source said.

Kim’s absence from public view is fueling speculation over the state of his health and whether he may have been sidelined in a power struggle.

“The longer he remains out of the public eye, the more uncertainty about him, and the status of his regime, will grow,” said Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Yesterday, the South Korean Unification Ministry said it believes Kim remains in charge, citing a message conveyed by him via a delegation visiting last weekend and Pyongyang’s continued public position that Kim leads the country.

“So it appears it is being normally ruled by Kim Jong-un,” ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said.

North Korean officials have denied that Kim’s public absence since early last month is health-related and a US official following North Korea said this week there were no indications he was seriously ill or in political trouble.

It remains unclear why a leg injury would keep Kim out of the public eye for so long, although this is not the first time he has been missing from view.

In June 2012, six months after coming to power, state media failed to report on or photograph him for 23 days.

Kim reappeared the next month when he was reported attending a show at a dolphinarium.

Speculation that Kim’s unusually long absence from public view may be due to ill health was fueled by a North Korean television report late last month that said he was suffering from “discomfort.”

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