Commercial satellite imagery showed boats often used by Kim had made movements in patterns that suggested he or his entourage may be in the Wonsan area, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing a report by the North Korea-monitoring website NK PRO.
The NK PRO account followed another report last week by a US-based North Korea monitoring project, 38 North, which said satellite images showed what was believed to be Kim’s personal train parked at a station reserved for his use at a villa in Wonsan.
According to the new report, South Korea and US officials assert that it is reasonable to believe Kim may be staying there, possibly to avoid exposure to the new coronavirus. They expressed skepticism about recent media reports that he had a serious illness.
Speculation about Kim’s health and location widely spread after his unprecedented absence from April 15 celebrations to mark the birthday of his late grandfather and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
The last time state media in North Korea reported on Kim’s whereabouts was when he presided over a meeting on April 11, but there have been reports of him sending letters and diplomatic messages.
According to experts and satellite imagery, Kim’s seaside compound in Wonsan is dotted with guest villas and serviced by a private beach, basketball court, and a private train station.
“It’s one of his favorite houses,” said a US-based North Korea leadership expert with the Stimson Center, Michael Madden.
Madden said Kim was believed to have about 13 significant compounds around the country, though he appears to only regularly use about half of them.
“All of them are set up to serve as the leader’s headquarters, so they are all equipped for him to run the country,” Madden said.
Wonsan is one of the larger and better-appointed compounds, but it also has a useful location that allows Kim to easily travel to other areas along the coast or return quickly to Pyongyang in his private train or along a special highway designated for use only by the Kim family or top officials, Madden claimed.
Experts cautioned, however, that Kim’s health and location were closely guarded secrets and reliable information was difficult to obtain from North Korea.