South Korea’s intelligence agency has said rumours about Kim Jong-un’s health were groundless, and there are no signs he had heart surgery.
The North Korean leader recently went 20 days without appearing in public, and missed the celebration of his grandfather’s birthday – one of the biggest events of the year.
Some media reports claimed he was “gravely ill”, or even dead.
But he then appeared at a fertiliser factory – apparently in good health.
What did South Korean intelligence say?
The head of South Korea’s intelligence agency, Suh Hoon, spoke to a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
He said there were no signs that rumours about Kim Jong-un’s health were true, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
The committee heard the North Korean leader had appeared in public 17 times this year. By this time of year, he would normally have appeared 50 times.
But that could have been down to a Covid-19 outbreak, said one member of the committee – even though North Korea officially has no cases.
“It cannot be ruled out that there is an outbreak in North Korea,” the lawmaker Kim Byung-kee said.
“Kim Jong-un had focused on consolidating internal affairs such as military forces and party-state meetings, and coronavirus concerns have further limited his public activity.”
What were the rumours?
After missing the birthday celebrations on 15 April, rumours about Mr Kim’s health began.
Six days later, an anonymous source told the Daily NK – a website run by defectors from the North – that Mr Kim had worsening cardiovascular problems.
The rumours were then repeated by international media, with some outlets claiming he was in a critical condition, and others even saying he was dead.
At the time, the South Korean government, and sources at Chinese intelligence – speaking to the Reuters news agency – said this was not true.
But the reports gained traction in the US when several media outlets quoted “unnamed US officials” as giving them some support.
Two defectors now members of the South’s parliament, Thae Yong-ho and Ji Seong-ho, also backed reports of Mr Kim’s illness.
Mr Thae has apologised, saying: “I am aware that one of the reasons why many of you voted for me as a lawmaker is with the expectations of an accurate analysis and projections on North Korean issues. I feel the blame and heavy responsibility.”
Had he gone missing before?
In 2014, Kim Jong-un disappeared from public view for 40 days – sparking a torrent of speculation – before reappearing, pictured with a cane.
State media admitted he was suffering from an “uncomfortable physical condition”, but did not address rumours that he was suffering from gout.