The PJ Tatler

Rumors Swirling about Fate of North Korean Leader

Where is North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un?

The last time Kim was seen in public was precisely a month ago — by far his longest absence from the public eye since he took power. State TV ran a documentary where they mentioned that Kim was not feeling well.

But speculation that there may have been a coup was given credence yesterday by a former propaganda official for the regime who claims that Kim was overthrown in a coup last year and has become a “puppet leader.”

Jang Jin-sung told a security conference in Holland that Kim was deposed by the powerful Organization and Guidance Department in 2013 and that they are pulling the strings at the moment. There has also been a report that the North Korean capital Pyongyang was in “lockdown” with even the elites being unable to enter or exit the city.

The Daily Mail reports:

He told Vice News: ‘On one hand, it’s people who want to maintain a regime monopoly. On the other hand, it’s not like people are fighting against the regime, but in a policy sense they want to take advantage to get influence. It’s not actually consciously civil war, but there are these two incompatible forces at play.’

Remco Breuker, a professor of Korean Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, which hosted the conference, backs-up Jin-sung’s statements.

He told the news site: ‘The real power resides within that one department, the OGD, that was groomed to bureaucratic perfection by Kim Jong-il. It serves him [Kim Jong-Un], but it more serves the legacy of Kim Jong-il. Those don’t always coincide.’

Jin-sung believes that the current North Korean regime will collapse in the near future and that Kim Jong-Un could be replaced by one of his brothers, either Kim Jong-nam, 43, or Kim Jong-chul, 33.

Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and an authority on North Korean affairs, told The Telegraph that the current lockdown in the capital – revealed by the New Focus International news web site this week – could mean that the regime has become dangerously unstable.

He said: ‘This sort of action suggests there has either been an attempted coup or that the authorities there have uncovered some sort of plot against the leadership.

‘If it is a military-backed coup, then the situation in Pyongyang will be very dangerous and I have heard reports that Kim has been moved out of the capital.’

State media acknowledged for the first time last month that Kim Jong-Un, who assumed power in North Korea when his father died in 2011, was suffering from ‘discomfort’ due to unspecified health reasons, prompting speculation over what ails him.

How much credence should we give this story? North Korea is a wild and wacky place with all sorts of intrigue and factionalism. But the most credible explanation is, as with all things, usually the simplest: Kim is sick.

Time magazine reports:

Video of Kim at a July event marking the 20th anniversary event of the death of his grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, showed him walking with a peculiar gait. In July footage, he was clearly sweating. State-run TV acknowledged that Kim was suffering from “discomfort.” Chosun Ilbo, the South Korean daily, translated a TV voice-over aired last month that praised: “our marshal, who lights the path of leadership for the people like a flame, although he was not feeling well.”

Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, has speculated that the latest scion of the three-generation Kim ruling dynasty may be suffering from gout, a form of arthritis nicknamed the king’s malady because it can be triggered by a rich diet and sedentary lifestyle. Both Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il (known as the Dear Leader), and his grandfather (referred to as the Great Leader) suffered from gout, according to Yonhap.

Photos of Kim taken since he assumed power show a rapidly expanding man, at least in terms of his girth. Obesity is a risk factor for gout. “The guy is seriously overweight,” says North Korea expert Andrei Lankov, who studied in Pyongyang in the 1980s and now teaches at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “It’s not good when you’re talking about a country where so many people are malnourished.”

Gout can be extremely painful and debilitating. It is not likely that Kim would want to be seen in a wheelchair or limping around, barely able to walk. After all, living Gods don’t present themselves as having that kind of weakness.

When my ex-wife’s father was afflicted with gout, it took several weeks of treatment before he was able to get around. And that was due to western medicine. Without leaving the country, you have to wonder what kind of care Kim is getting at the hands of the primitive North Korean medical establishment.

Of course, the possibility exists he’s dead, or has indeed been overthrown. But we might expect his top advisors to have suffered the same fate. And yet, here they were today in South Korea, striking a deal to resume talks:

North and South Korea have agreed to hold another round of high-level talks after a top-level Northern delegation, including the men thought to be second and third in command behind Kim Jong Un, paid a surprise visit to the South on Saturday.

The unusual and unannounced trip — the first such high-level visit in more than five years — comes at a time of intense speculation about North Korea’s leadership, given that Kim, the third-generation leader of the communist state, has not been seen in public for a month.

It also comes amid a steady stream of disparaging comments from both sides, with South Korean President Park Geun-hye recently calling for the international community to help in “tearing down the world’s last remaining wall of division” and the North calling Park an “eternal traitor” in response.

“It’s a big deal, it’s really a big deal, because it’s completely unprecedented,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea scholar who studied in Pyongyang and now teaches in Seoul.

It’s difficult to believe there was some kind of coup in North Korea when a major diplomatic move was undertaken. But it still won’t scotch the rumors about Kim and his weird, paranoid regime.