North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was probably hiding away from coronavirus concerns when he seemingly disappeared last month, and did not have any surgery, according to a spy agency.
Kim made his first public appearance in weeks on Saturday, after speculation that he had had heart surgery and was in a critical condition as a result.
There had even been some reports that he had died.
However, on Wednesday, South Korea’s National Intelligence Committee (NIC) told the country’s parliamentary intelligence that reports of any illness were “groundless”, adding Kim “did not get any heart-related procedure or surgery”.
The agency also said he had been performing his normal duties during his time away from state media.
Committee member Kim Byung-kee said: “Kim Jong Un had focused on consolidating internal affairs such as military forces and party-state meetings, and coronavirus concerns have further limited his public activity.
“Though North Korea maintains it has zero cases, it cannot be ruled out that there is an outbreak there given they had active people-to-people exchanges with China before closing the border in late January.”
According to South Korea’s unification minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees North Korea affairs, Kim’s disappearance was not unusual, due to the country’s stringent measures to try to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.
The North Korean leader had reportedly implemented several measures in an attempt to curtail an outbreak in his country, while maintaining prices and its military discipline, after border closures prompted rises in food costs and panic buying in Pyongyang.
:: Listen to the Behind the Headline podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
He made his first public appearance in more than three weeks when he visited a newly completed fertiliser plant on 2 May, seemingly aimed at showing his intent to ease food shortages and develop a “self-reliant” economy.
In April, spy planes spotted Kim’s personal train at the exclusive resort of Wonsan, amid reports that he was recovering from heart surgery in the region. However it now appears he had been thanking workers building tourist facilities in the coastal town.