Satellite images released by a US think tank have shown a special train probably belonging to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un parked at a coastal resort town in the east of the country, as speculation rises about his whereabouts, poor health, and even death.
The Washington-based monitoring project 38 North said in a report on Saturday that the 250-meter-long train had been spotted at the “leadership station” in the Wonsan resort area on April 21 and 23, adding that the station was specifically reserved for the use of the Kim family.
The American think tank said the presence of the train did not mean that Kim was there, nor did it say anything about his health condition.
“The train’s presence does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader or indicate anything about his health but it does lend weight to reports that Kim is staying at an elite area on the country’s eastern coast,” the report said.
Satellite imagery indicates that Kim Jong Un was likely at his Wonsan compound earlier this week.
The Wonsan area is believed to be Kim’s residence outside the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
There has been speculation about Kim’s poor health following his absence from a major event on April 15 that marked the birth anniversary of his grandfather and North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il-sung.
The last time North Korea’s state media reported on Kim’s whereabouts was when he presided over a meeting on April 11 and a day later, when he inspected drills by fighter jets at an air defense unit in the capital.
Media reports said Kim had undergone a cardiovascular surgery earlier this month and was recovering at a resort in the north of Pyongyang.
Reports said the North Korean leader, who is in his mid-30s, needed urgent treatment due to alleged heavy smoking, obesity, and fatigue.
Citing an anonymous US official with access to intelligence, the CNN published a report on Monday saying Kim was in “grave danger” after the surgery.
But government sources in China and South Korea contradicted the CNN report.
Reuters reported on Friday that China had dispatched a team of medical experts to North Korea to advise on Kim.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong TV news channel HKSTV’s vice director, Qing Feng, claimed that according to a “very solid source,” Kim was dead.
Shukan Gendai, a Japanese magazine, also said that the North Korean leader was in a “vegetative state” after a heart surgery that went wrong earlier this month.
Pyongyang has released no official statement about Kim’s health and whereabouts yet.
But North Korea’s state Rodong Sinmun newspaper said on Sunday that Kim had sent greetings to the staff working on the construction of Samjiyon City, one of the most ambitious development projects underway in the country.
The publication reported that Kim “sent thanks” to workers involved in the rebuilding of what was praised as an “ideal socialist village” by the North Korean leader himself, who officially inaugurated the renovated city in a lavish ceremony in early December last year.