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Saturday, October 11, 2014



North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has not been seen in public for more than a month, fueling rumors of serious health or political problems.
Kim, who succeeded his father Kim Jong Il in 2011, was last seen September 3 at a concert by his favorite pop group, the Moranbong Band, an all-girl group consisting of five young women, all hand-picked by Kim.
North Korean watchers were surprised in late September when Kim did not attend a meeting of the country's ceremonial parliament - a gathering he has attended his first two years in office.
Two months earlier, the portly Kim was seen awkwardly limping across a stage at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the death of his grandfather, the country's founding president, Kim Il Sung.
Shortly thereafter, a state media documentary mentioned in passing that the leader, regarded by many North Koreans as an almost divine figure, was experiencing unspecified "discomfort."
At this point, any speculation on Kim's whereabouts is only a guess. The problem is complicated by the secretive nature of the government in North Korea, where little information leaks out except that given in official reports.
South Korean media have reported Kim suffers from gout -- which runs in the family -- in addition to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, all related to obesity and his fondness for Emmantal cheese.
Some observers say that his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, has stepped in to fill the void. She is the youngest child of Kim Jong Il.
Rumors took a more serious turn Saturday when Kim Jong Un's top deputies unexpectedly traveled to South Korea for the highest-level face-to-face talks in five years. The delegation was led by Huwang Pyong So -- believed to be Kim's second in command.
With rumors flying, the outside world will get one important clue on the fate of Kim Jong Un on Friday, when North Korea mounts its very public ceremonies to mark the founding of the ruling Korean Worker's Party.
North Korean officials begun to be more open with the West. Last Tuesday the DPRK deputy ambassador agreed to answer questions at the United Nations. He declined to talk about Kim Jong-un, but was willing to admit that international sanctions were hurting the economy and people of his country. North Korea also set up human rights talks with the European Union. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry published a report cataloguing abuses including North Korea’s infamous prison camps. Of course, North Korean officials denied any wrong-doing and called communism “the most advantageous” system. The fact that North Korea wants to meet with the EU to discuss human rights is a huge change in its international policy. Furthermore, another North Korean official has stated that the DPRK is willing to restart the six-party nuclear talks, which include Russia, the United States, China, Japan and South Korea.
All of this outreach seems to be an about-face for North Korea. Kim Jong-un’s previous hardline position kept the nation isolated and at odds with the rest of the world. The fact that high-ranking officials, and not Kim himself, are making international appearances casts doubt on his leadership.

If the supreme leader fails to show at this must-see event, it could signal he has very serious problems, physical or political.


North Korea's state media say high-level talks with South Korea are close to collapsing after the two countries traded small arms fire.
Pyongyang on Friday opened fire on balloons filled with anti-North Korea propaganda sent across the border by South Korean activists.
When some of the rounds fell on the southern side of the border, Seoul returned fire. No injuries or damage were reported on either side.
The North's state-run Uriminzokkiri news website said the South's "irresponsible and provocative" move has driven inter-Korean ties "into a catastrophe."
In a report Saturday, the site said a planned high-level meeting between North and South Korean officials is now "all but scrapped."  
The two foes last week agreed to the talks after a senior North Korean delegation made a surprise visit to South Korea for the Asian Games.
The planned negotiations raised hopes of at least temporarily improved relations between the two neighbors, which are still technically at war following their 1950s conflict.
Earlier this week, Pyongyang had warned of an “uncontrollable catastrophe” in inter-Korean relations unless the South Korean government stopped the launch of the balloons.
A group of Seoul-based activists, made up mostly of defectors from the North, sent anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North on Friday, the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party.
North Korea has complained about similar leaflet drops in the past, including one last month. But, the government in Seoul has not taken action so far to stop the activists.

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