The FINANCIAL — According to RIA Novosti, the South Korean government said on November 3 that the latest photos released by North Korea of leader Kim Jong-il do not prove he is in good health.
North Korean state media released several images over the weekend showing the "Dear Leader" purportedly attending a football match between two army teams, in an apparent attempt to quell speculation that he is in a critical state of health.
"It is difficult to know Chairman Kim's health condition merely with still photos," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-Nyoun told reporters.
The South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies have said Kim, 66, may have suffered a stroke in August. Japanese media reports last month said a French brain surgeon travelled to the secretive communist state to operate on him.
In one of the photographs, Kim is shown sitting on a white sofa, wearing his trademark sunglasses, with his deputies sitting nearby, and autumn trees in the background. Several of the images show a football match taking place, but none of them show the leader and the footballers together.
In October, North Korea showed photographs on state television of the leader inspecting a women's military unit. However, South Korean experts said the photos had clearly been taken several months ago, casting further doubt over Kim's health.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso said last week that the North Korean leader is probably in hospital, but sufficiently healthy to maintain control over the country.
Japanese North Korea expert Professor Toshimitsu Shigemura, who earlier claimed that Kim died back in 2003 of diabetes and that doubles of the dictator have been appearing at public events ever since, has since said: "If he was dead, the North Koreans would have sealed the borders and not be letting anyone in or out."
Kim Jong-il has ruled North Korea since 1994, when he succeeded his late father Kim Il-sung, the communist state's founder.