Kim Jong-un has sent a message to mark South Africa’s Freedom Day amid rumours that he had died after undergoing surgery.
The North Korean leader, 36, congratulated President Cyril Ramaphosa on the national holiday and expressed the belief that relations between the two countries is growing ‘steadily stronger’, the KCNA reports.
It comes amid conflicting reports about Kim’s health, fuelled by his absence from the commemoration of the 108th birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15.
The Supreme Leader is reported to have undergone heart surgery at his family’s private hospital Mount Paektu, after collapsing several days earlier.
On Sunday, South Korean presidential adviser Moon Chung-in told CNN that the North Korean leader was “alive and well” despite speculation about his wellbeing. The adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Kim had been staying in the Wonsan area on the country’s east coast since April 13, adding: “No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”
Other unverified rumors are that the rogue regime’s reclusive leader may have been injured during a recent missile test and that he went into hiding after one of his bodyguards was suspected to have contracted COVID-19.
Some reports indicate he had a stent fitted, which is a routine operation, but rumours suggest the surgeon made an error which proved to be fatal for the ruler.
Vice director of HKSTV Hong Kong Satellite Television, Shijian Xingzou, said a ‘very solid source’ told her that Kim had died, while Japanese magazine Shukan Gendai reported the leader was in a ‘vegetative state’ after the procedure.
A team of Chinese medical experts were previously sent to advise on how to treat him. If Kim has died, his sister Kim Yo-jong is likely to take over as leader.
She has already been exercising significant influence within the government, an analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute said.
Cheong Seong-Chang added that social upheaval would be unlikely in the event of the Supreme Leader’s death, as most members of Pyongyang’s leadership share an interest in North Korea staying within the Kim family.
On Sunday, a top official in South Korea denied reports that Kim had died on the operating table, stating that there were no ‘unusual developments’ in North Korea.
Unification minister Kim Yeon-chul said South Korea has ‘enough intelligence’ to confidently know what is happening in their neighbouring nation.