SEOUL, September 10 – North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has suffered a minor stroke but his life is not in danger, a South Korean government official said Wednesday.,
Kim’s failure to appear at a major parade Tuesday celebrating the hard-line communist country’s 60th anniversary triggered renewed speculation about the reclusive leader’s state of health.
A US intelligence official also said he may have suffered a stroke.
However in Pyongyang, the regime’s number two was quoted as denying the reports, which another official branded a "conspiracy" by Western media.
The unidentified Seoul government official told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that Kim, 66, had undergone surgery after suffering the stroke but his condition is not life-threatening.
"It seems that he had intended to attend the September 9 event in the afternoon but decided not to because of the aftermath of the surgery."
Yonhap quoted another official as saying that Kim Jong-Il seemed to have suffered a collapse at some time.
Kim’s apparent illness comes amid deadlock in a crucial six-nation nuclear disarmament deal and fears that the North, which carried out its first atom bomb test two years ago, intends to restart the programme.
There was no official confirmation from Seoul that Kim is ill. He is known to suffer from diabetes and heart problems and there have been numerous unconfirmed reports in the past of him receiving treatment.
The North’s de facto head of state Kim Yong-Nam was quoted by Japan’s Kyodo News as saying there is "no problem" with the top leader’s condition.
But he appeared to indicate that Kim Jong-Il’s absence from the parade was unscheduled.
"While we wanted to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the country with General Secretary Kim Jong-Il, we celebrated on our own," Kim Yong-Nam was quoted as saying.
The agency said there were no signs of concern in central Pyongyang, with families strolling and visiting food stalls.
"We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot," Song Il-Ho, North Korea’s ambassador handling relations with Japan, told Kyodo.
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak called an emergency meeting of top aides to discuss the situation.
Presidential spokesman Lee Dong-Kwan said the government has been analysing intelligence for some time and had anticipated that Kim would be absent from Tuesday’s parade.
"The government is still paying close attention to ongoing circumstances in North Korea to make thorough preparations for any emergency situation there," the spokesman said without officially confirming Kim is ill.
Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Tuesday that the South Korean embassy in Beijing had received an intelligence report that Kim collapsed on August 22.
Chosun earlier reported that five Chinese doctors had been in North Korea for more than a week, possibly to treat Kim.
Yang Moo-Jin, of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, told AFP: "It is quite certain that some French and Chinese experts have entered North Korea to treat Kim Jong-Il but it remains unknown what condition he is in."
The US intelligence official said in Washington on Tuesday that Kim appears to have suffered a health setback, possibly a stroke.
The official said he seemed to have fallen ill in the last couple of weeks but there were no outward signs of a struggle to succeed him.
Kim’s health has been the subject of intense speculation since he took over from his father, who died in 1994, in the communist world’s only dynastic succession. He has not publicly nominated any successor.
The defence ministry in Seoul said no particular North Korean troop movements had been detected and no unusual radio traffic had been heard.
The North, one of the most isolated and impoverished countries in the world, promised to shut down its programme after conducting its first atomic weapons test in 2006.
But it has halted work to disable its plutonium-producing plants, and says it will start repairing them, because of the deadlock over verification of its nuclear disclosures.
The North is also suffering particularly acute food shortages this year, relying on outside aid to feed millions, and its economy is foundering.