North Korean defector says he is '99% sure' Kim Jong Un is dead

North Korean defector says he is ‘99% sure’ Kim Jong Un is dead and the country could announce it this weekend

  • Defector Ji Seong-ho said he had been ‘informed that Kim died last weekend’ 
  • Ji said Kim’s sister was in line to replace him after a ‘complicated succession’ 
  • Kim has not been seen in public since April 15 and reports say he had surgery 
  • Seoul and Washington have played down rumours that he is gravely ill or dead 

A North Korean defector claims he is ’99 per cent sure’ that Kim Jong Un is dead, saying that Pyongyang could announce the news this weekend. 

Ji Seong-ho told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that he had been ‘informed that Kim died last weekend’ after cardiovascular surgery.

The defector said Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong was in line to succeed her brother but said the secretive state was ‘grappling with a complicated succession issue’. 

Kim has not been seen in public since April 11 and his absence has sparked a wave of speculation about his health, but Seoul and Washington have played down claims that he is seriously ill or dead. 

State-controlled media in North Korea has not provided any definitive proof that Kim is alive, beyond reports of letters sent in his name.   

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (pictured in March this year) has not been seen in public since April 11  – prompting rumours that he is gravely ill or dead 

Experts have suggested that Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong (pictured together in Pyongyang in September 2018) could be in line to succeed her brother if necessary 

Ji, a defector who was elected to the South’s parliament earlier this year, is the latest to suggest that Kim might have died after heart surgery. 

‘I’ve wondered how long he could have endured after cardiovascular surgery. I’ve been informed that Kim died last weekend,’ he said. 

‘It is not 100 per cent certain, but I can say the possibility is 99 per cent. North Korea is believed to be grappling with a complicated succession issue.’

Pyongyang has never made any succession plans public, but experts say Kim’s sister has been the most visible presence around the dictator in recent years. 

She was named an alternate member of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful Central Committee Politburo last month.  

North Korea is the world’s most secretive country and reports about Kim and his family, including the suggestion that he recently had heart surgery, are nearly impossible to verify.  

However, other defectors have cast doubt on whether such sensitive information would ever leak out from Kim’s inner circle.   

Senior party and government officials celebrate the 108th anniversary of founder Kim Il-Sung’s birth in Pyongyang on April 15 – a ceremony which Kim Jong-un inexplicably missed

Some defectors say that their relatives in North Korea did not know that Kim had been missing from public view for three weeks.  

One said people had been talking about Kim’s whereabouts in very private circles after he failed to appear at a ruling party showpiece on April 15. 

Kim’s unprecedented absence from the Day of the Sun ceremony honouring his grandfather Kim Il-Sung prompted major speculation about his welfare.     

‘I talked to my sister and my niece this morning and they had no clue about these reports and rumours about Kim Jong Un’s health,’ said one defector, Lee Soon-hee.

‘When I told them, they were so cautious about discussing it. North Koreans have a very limited knowledge of these things.’ Lee defected to the South in 2009.

North Koreans are keenly aware that they could face punishment for discussing the Kim family, said Sokeel Park, of Liberty in North Korea, a group that works with defectors.

‘That doesn’t mean people don’t take that risk, some people do,’ Park said. ‘But it’s still a super sensitive issue.’

‘It’s a little like the pope not showing up for Christmas,’ he said of Kim’s absence from the April 15 celebrations.

A 250-metre-long train belonging to the dictator has been spotted near to his Wonsan holiday compound as recently as Thursday in satellite photos

South Korean officials say they have not detected any ‘unusual movements’ north of the DMZ. 

The South’s minister in charge of North Korean affairs said on Tuesday that fear of coronavirus could have kept Kim away from the April 15 ceremony. 

US President Donald Trump said last yesterday: ‘I understand what is going on, I cannot just talk about him right now, just hoping that everything will be fine. But I do understand the situation very well’.  

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said he was aware of reports on Kim’s health and he was was paying close attention to developments. 

Still, experts say it is strange that North Korea would not release a picture of a healthy-looking Kim if there was no truth to the rumours. 

Official media has not provided any verifiable proof of life since April 11, other than reporting that he had sent messages to North Korean workers and to South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Another defector-turned-politician, Thae Yong-ho, has warned that only a small handful of people would know the full story. 

He also cautioned that clues about Kim’s whereabouts – such as an apparent sighting of his personal train in the city of Wonsan – could be deliberate diversion tactics. 

Pyongyang officials know that the train can be seen from satellites and have previously sent it around the country to confuse outsiders, Thae said. 

The sighting of the train was followed by further satellite images from Wonsan showing boats often used by Kim and his entourage.     

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