Seoul, May 22 (efe-epa) – South Korea on Friday said it was closely monitoring the whereabouts of the North Korean leader, who has been missing again from the public eye for three weeks.
On May 1, Kim Jong-un attended a ceremony to mark the inauguration of a fertilizer plant in Sunchon following a three-week absence from the public eye, putting an end to rumors that he was sick or dead.
Since then, photos of Kim have been missing from North Korean media reports and the matter came up at a press conference held on Friday by the spokesperson of South Korea’s unification ministry, Yoh Sang-key.
“The relevant authorities are keeping a close watch,” Yoh Sang-key told reporters, according to Yonhap news agency.
“There was a time in January when he was also absent from the public view for 21 days. So, we are watching the situation over his absence from media reports,” he added.
The 36-year-old North Korean dictator has been absent from the public more frequently than ever this year.
Kim attended a concert on Jan.25 and disappeared for 21 days until Feb. 16.
He was again not seen for 19 days between Mar. 22 and April 10. On Apr. 11, he chaired a meeting of the political bureau of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) before disappearing again.
The state-run media released video footage on May 2 showing Kim inaugurating a fertilizer plant. The video recorded a day earlier showed the leader cutting a ribbon at the event, ending three weeks of speculation about his wellbeing.
His prolonged absence, which coincided with several important events he was expected to attend, including the commemoration of the birth of the country’s founder and Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung, on the main national holiday on Apr. 15, gave rise to rumors that the North Korean leader had suffered a health crisis.
The speculation was also fueled by the state media reporting that during his last public event, Kim named his sister as a member of the powerful WPK political bureau, a move interpreted by some commentators as a succession plan.
While Pyongyang’s state-run media continued to report on actions by the leader during his absence, such as the sending of diplomatic letters to foreign governments and messages of appreciation directed at workers, there were no images of Kim until early May.
Given the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic and the traditional secretiveness of the North Korean government, Kim’s disappearance at that time was accompanied by anonymously sourced stories in foreign media suggesting that he was gravely ill or even dead. EFE-EPA