Speculation mounts over Kim absence before key date

By Agatha Yuen Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-10 0:53:01

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Speculation continues to mount over whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will appear at Friday's anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), after a prolonged public absence has fueled rumors of political instability in the nation.

The leader, who is in his early 30s, was last seen in public on September 3 when he was photographed with his wife, Ri Sol-ju, at a concert in Pyongyang. Since then he has been absent from political events, including the annual meeting of the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang last month.

The absence has generated a wide range of debate among foreign officials and analysts, particularly concerning the country's political stability.

Remco Breuker, professor of Korean studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Thursday told Australian ABC News that the absence of the leader "signals a power shift within the North Korean elite" and that the leader "could have been placed under house arrest."

Speculation intensified after Kim's top military aide, Hwang Pyong-so, attended the closing ceremony of the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, on Saturday. Analysts remain skeptical that Hwang may be in charge, the Japan Times reported.

A number of reports have speculated that the leader is in poor health, after North Korean state media admitted in September that Kim was suffering from "discomfort." But the North's high-level delegation to Incheon later denied Kim's public absence was related to health issues.

Footage released in July showed that the leader had an obvious limp at an event marking the 20th anniversary of the death of his grandfather, late leader Kim Il-sung.

Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based senior analyst and deputy director of the Northeast Asia project at the International Crisis Group, told the Global Times that he believes the leader does have health issues but these are not likely to be serious. 

"If he is suffering something serious, the state media would hide that. But two months ago they began to show pictures and video of him walking in a strange way, so if it was something serious, I think they would cover that up and they would not show it to the public," he said.

Wang Sheng, a professor specializing in Korean Peninsula issues at Jilin University, also said it is very likely that the leader is suffering a small health problem but Kim may also use this period to make key decisions to deal with the Korean Peninsula issue and its relationship with South Korea.

"I think we should not pay too much attention to Kim's health since he is still a young man. It is more about what political plans he will make, such as on the nuclear program and its relationship with its neighbor countries, as the two Koreas will have their second formal high-level talks in late October or early November," he said.

Pinkston described the current political situation of North Korea as normal and he does not believe that Kim's absence on Friday's 69th anniversary would make a difference to the regime.

Kim has been absent from the public eye several times since he became leader in 2011. The longest gap was in June in 2012 when he was not seen for 24 days.

The WPK's flagship newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, in a Tuesday editorial also pledged allegiance to Kim on marking the anniversary of his father's election as WPK general secretary.

Kim has also drawn the world's attention as South Korea's Yonhap News Agency Wednesday quoted an unidentified diplomat as saying that the UN is seeking to put Kim on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for violations of human rights.

The draft resolution was written by the EU and it was circulated behind closed doors. Although the proposed resolution is still a draft, "it marks the first time that a UN resolution on North Korean human rights includes a plan to bring the North Korean leadership to an international court over anti-human rights charges," the source, who demanded anonymity, told Yonhap.

The UN, however, published on its official Sina Weibo account Thursday that the ICC could only intervene in human rights violation cases regarding its 122 signatory countries or those submitted by the UN Security Council, without giving a direct reference to the Yonhap report.

North Korea is not a signatory to the ICC.

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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