November 11, 2008 / 2:27 AM / 11 years ago

Spy agency rejects Kim Jong-il's stroke report

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s intelligence agency Tuesday rejected a Japanese television report that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had suffered a second stroke, with the South playing down further speculation about Kim’s hold on power.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il waves as he visits the 2200 military unit to see military training at an undisclosed place in North Korea, in this undated picture released by KCNA November 5, 2008. KCNA did not state expressly the date when the picture was taken and the name of the Supreme Commander of North Korean People's Army, who is usually designated as North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. REUTERS/KCNA

Japan’s TBS TV network said Kim had suffered a second stroke late last month that affected the movement of his left arm and leg and also his ability to speak. The broadcaster quoted a source in South Korea close to a U.S. intelligence agency

“We’re viewing it with a low credibility,” a South Korean National Intelligence Service official told Reuters. He declined to discuss the details of the report or the agency’s assessment.

U.S. and South Korean officials have said Kim suffered a stroke in August, raising questions about succession in Asia’s only communist dynasty and about who was making decisions concerning its nuclear weapons program.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who last month said Kim was on the mend and in control, told a leading local daily the North Korean leader had not lost his grip on the country.

“Chairman Kim Jong-il’s condition is that he has no problem looking after state affairs,” Lee told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper in an interview published Tuesday.

The North has released undated still photographs in recent weeks of Kim in public, but analysts said there has been no definitive and timely image that shows him in good health.

“Kim is undergoing rehabilitation and they (North Korea) are confident that he can make an appearance at some point,” said Masao Okonogi, Korea expert at Keio University in Tokyo.

Even though North Korea is one of the world’s most closed countries, its citizens have probably heard rumors that Kim had a health setback, prompting the state to release the photographs of him at a soccer match and inspecting troops, analysts said.

“The fact that they cannot provide conclusive photographic evidence that he is alive now shows me that he is incapacitated,” said Brian Myers, an expert on the North’s propaganda at Dongseo University in South Korea.

“As much as they like uncertainty in the rest of the world, they hate uncertainty among their own people. They are under enormous pressure to let their people know that their leader is alive and well and they cannot do it,” he said.

Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in SEOUL and Yoko Nishikawa in TOKYO

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