PYONGYANG, North Korea, Oct. 6 (UPI) — Rumors that North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has been deposed have heightened in intensity following a surprise trip by the country’s No. 2 leader to visit South Korea.
Kim has not been seen publicly since September 4, and is reportedly suffering from gout, the “kings’ malady” form of arthritis brought on by rich diet and sedentary lifestyle. He also reportedly underwent surgery for two broken ankles.
But according to some experts, his absence from the September meeting of the nation’s rubber-stamp congress, the Supreme People’s Assembly, is only the latest indication that something has gone seriously awry for the dictator.
The trip to South Korea, led by recently elevated Hwang Pyong So, was an unusual step forward for proponents of reconciliation.
The trip comes just days after Jang Jin Sung, a former counterintelligence official and high-ranking member of Kim Jong Il’s regime, told fellow exiles in Netherlands that he believed recent events only added evidence that Kim was no longer in charge.
Jang believes a powerful group of officials consolidated by Kim Jong Il have stopped taking orders from his son, essentially wresting control of the country. He says the Organization and Guidance Department actually took power last year, as evidenced by the execution of their rival, the formerly politically untouchable uncle of Kim Jong Un, Jang Song Thaek.
Jang said the OGD’s power has grown such that Kim has been reduced to a puppet, and that his absence has been orchestrated for their purposes.
Adding fuel to the fire were reports from inside North Korea that Pyongyang has instituted a new travel ban to enter the capital city.
Last week, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was aware of the reports.
Regardless of the state of Kim’s political well-being, recent images, and family health history, certainly indicate his actual health problems are real.
Television footage released by the state media show Kim walking with a pronounced limp, and he has grown increasingly overweight, both symptoms of gout. According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, both his father and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, suffered from the disease.
Other Korea watchers say the unusual report of Kim’s “discomfort” actually indicates that the young leader remains fully in power.
Kim has repeatedly disappeared for extended periods before, including 10 days in July and 18 days in January 2013. And twice, in March and June 2012, Kim avoided public view for three weeks at a time.
And while the delegation to South Korea reportedly told their counterparts that “there is nothing wrong with the health of Secretary Kim,” others say his sister has taken over in his absence.
North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity said last week that Kim Yo Jong convened a meeting of Workers’ Party officials in early September, securing her position as regent while her brother was hospitalized.