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Source: Kim had stroke about Aug.15

After brain surgery, North’s leader is said still in recovery  PLAY AUDIO

Sept 11,2008
North Korean leaders, minus Kim Jong-il, celebrate the 60th anniversary Tuesday in Pyongyang. From left: Kim Yong-chun, Army Chief of Staff; Jo Myong-rok, chief, Political Bureau of the People’s Army; Kim Yong-nam, president, Supreme People’s Assembly; Premier Kim Yong-il; and Jon Pyong-ho, secretary, Worker’s Party Central Committee. [YONHAP]
North Korea’s 66-year-old leader Kim Jong-il collapsed around Aug. 15 because of a stroke and a group of foreign doctors were immediately sent into the country to perform brain surgery, said a senior South Korean intelligence official yesterday.

South Korea’s presidential office, government agencies and the military are now on high alert and are busy trying to figure out whether or not Kim’s days as the reclusive leader of the communist country may be numbered.

But North Korea strongly denied the news about Kim’s health condition, saying they are “worthless” and constitute a “nefarious machination.”

“It is not easy figuring out the pace of Kim’s recovery after brain surgery, but we believe that he has recovered and still is in recovery,” the senior intelligence official told South Korea’s National Assembly. He asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Kim Jong-il
“Chinese doctors are still staying in the country to treat Kim,” he said.

Annually, North Korea holds a massive military parade and mass rallies to celebrate the anniversary of the communist state’s founding, which falls on Sept. 9.

But Kim, who has disappeared from public view since making a visit to a military barracks on Aug. 14, did not make an appearance for this year’s 60th anniversary celebration on Tuesday. His unusual absence for the much-anticipated event triggered speculation that he may be too ill to be seen in front of crowds and the media.

In Seoul President Lee Myung-bak held an emergency meeting with his aides yesterday morning to discuss Kim’s health condition and devise a possible response, said the Blue House spokesman, Lee Dong-kwan.

“We obtained and reviewed information about Kim’s health long ago,” Lee said yesterday. “We anticipated there was a possibility that Kim may miss the event.”

An unnamed Washington official said Kim is known to be partially paralyzed but conscious. “All intelligence agencies in South Korea and the United States are doing their utmost to figure out how ill Kim is and where he’s being treated.”

Another unnamed Blue House official said all related government agencies are assessing the situation.

“The government will announce its official position soon,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s military is on high alert, keeping an eye on Pyongyang and whether its military makes any unusual move, said one senior military official who refused to be named.

“We haven’t detected anything irregular yet, but we are keeping a very close eye on the situation in the North,” said the official.

The Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command is maintaining the same level III Watch Condition that it held before the reported stroke. But all of its surveillance aircraft and satellites are in full operation.

Its KH-11 satellite can view the entire North Korean territory, while U-2 and Kumgang reconnaissance aircraft can photograph scenes of Pyongyang and its southern areas. South Korea’s Baekdu reconnaissance aircraft can also collect information from wireless communications and telephone signals.

The military is known to be mulling several worst-case scenarios, including an internal armed conflict among Pyongyang officials and possible mass defection of North Koreans to neighboring countries, including the South.

While the eyes of the government officials and the political observers are on North Korea, Pyongyang denied all speculations about its leader’s health condition. Song Il-ho, a senior North Korean diplomat in charge of relations with Japan, also called such speculation as “worthless and part of a nefarious machination,” in an interview with Kyodo News yesterday. Kyodo also reported that Kim Yong-nam, president of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly and known as the second most powerful man in the country, said Kim Jong-il has “no medical problem,” without elaborating further.

North Korean officials in the country’s mission to the United Nations in New York denied news reports on Kim’s health condition, calling them “not true,” according to Bloomberg News.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong also took a more cautious stance. Kim told National Assembly lawmakers yesterday morning that “nothing has been confirmed except Kim skipped the Sept. 9 celebration.”

The National Assembly was also abuzz with talk on how to deal with political turbulence should Kim die or leave his leadership position.

“As the ruling party, we should plan how to deal with this sudden change and a power struggle that may ensue,” Nam Kyong-phil, senior Grand National Party lawmaker and a member of the Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee, said in a meeting with other lawmakers. “We need to cooperate with the United States and China to prepare for possible turbulence.”

But another GNP lawmaker, Hwang Jin-ha, said it is not yet certain whether Kim really is in critical condition or merely trying to grab international attention.

Meanwhile, political experts also warned Kim’s illness would likely stall ongoing efforts to revive the North’s denuclearization process. Nine days after the reported stroke, Pyongyang took a harder line in the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the North. It said North Korea would stop disabling its nuclear facilities, and might even restore them. Those words set both Seoul and Washington on edge.

“Given that North Korea’s political system is highly reliant on personalities rather than policies, the defense authorities will unlikely replace Kim’s role,” said Kim Youn-chul, director of the Hankyoreh Peace Research Institute.


By Choi Sang-yeon JoongAng Ilbo/ Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter [hawon@joongang.co.kr]


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