Kim Jong Un makes first appearance amid death rumors, S. Korea reports

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South Korea reports Kim Jong Un is 'alive and well' amid rumors of his death

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has made his first public appearance in 20 days, according to Yonhap News Agency in South Korea.

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The report, later confirmed by Reuters and BBC News, said Kim attended a Friday ribbon-cutting ceremony at a fertilizer factory in South Pyongan Province in the North.

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Friday’s report threw water on a growing list of theories about where Kim might be after reports first emerged last week that he might be in “grave danger” following complications from surgery and a missed appearance at an April 15 holiday celebration for his late grandfather.

Several reports in Asian news media early Friday continued to speculate Kim was either dead or incapacitated after not being seen in public since April 11.

Yonhap News Agency is a government-funded company based in Seoul, South Korea.

It seemed, at least for now, that rumors of Kim’s demise could be put to rest.

Earlier this week, a top South Korean official said his government was fully aware of the North Korean dictator’s whereabouts.

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“The government is aware of Kim Jong Un’s location,” Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said when asked directly in a parliamentary session Tuesday.

Reporters asked President Donald Trump about the development Friday.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, according to AFP White House correspondent Jerome Cartillier.

CNN was the first network to report on April 20 that U.S. intelligence was monitoring information that the leader could be near death following surgery. The report also emphasized that Kim’s absence from state events in the past has led to speculation but nothing more.

Next, the Seoul-based news site Daily NK reported that Kim was recovering from heart surgery at the Hyang San Hospital, north of Pyongyang, citing an unidentified person inside the country. But Kim Yeon-chul later disputed that report, calling it “fake news,” according to Bloomberg.

A later report by UPI said Kim could simply be hiding out from the pandemic and that he likely evacuated to a safe house on North Korea’s eastern coast from the capital of Pyongyang weeks ago as a precaution.

Another report said Kim’s yacht had been spotted in the waters in the Wonsan area in recent days, suggesting the leader could be electing to ride out the coronavirus offshore.

A week ago, a South Korean source told Reuters that Kim was alive and well and would be making an appearance soon, according to their intelligence.

But several later reports in Asian news media pointed to more dire circumstances.

Japanese media claimed Kim was in a vegetative state following a heart procedure.

Hong Kong Satellite Television reported Kim was in fact dead, according to Newsweek, but the report has not been confirmed by U.S. intelligence.

Despite all the speculation about Kim, there’s no way to know for sure because North Korea’s oppressive regime typically keeps a tight lid on information about the leader. Much of what is learned about his health or movements is provided through secondhand intelligence.

— This is a developing story. Come back to AJC.com for the latest updates.