Seoul says Kim Jong-un not believed to have received surgery

There have been media reports speculating about Kim’s surgery, citing a change in the way he walks

by AFP / pic by AFP

SEOUL • North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is not believed to have received surgery, a senior South Korean official said yesterday, a day after Kim’s reappearance following a near three-week absence that triggered intense speculation about his health.

“Chairman Kim is not believed to have received surgery,” an unnamed senior official at the South’s presidential office said, according to Yonhap news agency.

“There were media reports speculating about Kim’s surgery, citing a change in the way he walks,” the official added, saying Seoul had enough grounds to draw the conclusion.

Rumours about Kim’s health have been swirling since his conspicuous no-show at April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather, the North’s founder — the most important day in the country’s political calendar.

North Korean state television showed Kim walking, smiling broadly and smoking a cigarette at what it said was the opening of a fertiliser factory last Friday.

Meanwhile, North Korean troops fired multiple gunshots towards the South in the Demilitarised Zone dividing the peninsula yesterday, prompting South Korean forces to fire back, Seoul said.

The rare exchange of gunfire comes a day after North Korean state media reported that leader Kim had made his first public appearance.

A South Korean guard post was hit by several shots from the North, the joint chiefs of staff (JCS) in Seoul said in a statement, adding no casualties were reported in the South. “Our military responded with two rounds of gunfire and a warning announcement,” the JCS said.

The South Korean military later said the North Korean gunshots were “not deemed intentional”, according to the Yonhap news agency.

The two neighbours remain technically at war after the Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953, and despite its name, the Demilitarised Zone is one of the most fortified places on earth, replete with minefields and barbed-wire fences.

Easing military tensions on their border was one of the agreements reached between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a summit in Pyongyang in September 2018.

North Korea’s discussions with the US over Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal are also at a standstill, despite three meetings between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

The uncertainty around the process would have increased had Kim been incapacitated or dead as rumoured in recent weeks.