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South Korean Officials Try to Keep Lid on Kim Jong Il Health Rumors

  • Kurt Achin

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is still nowhere to be seen, more than a week after South Korean intelligence officials revealed the belief he is recovering from a stroke. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, South Korean officials are trying to cool down a sizzling media demand for rumors and speculation about the North Korean leader's condition.

South Korea's main Cabinet minister in charge of North Korean affairs warned lawmakers Thursday to keep matters related to the health of the North's leader, Kim Jong Il, discrete.

Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong says spreading reports could lead to confrontation.

He says it is inappropriate to pass on reports, even credible ones, that have not been officially confirmed by North Korea. He says Pyongyang could eventually view such behavior as slanderous and antagonistic.

Kim Jong Il has not been seen in public since last month, and was most notably absent from a military parade this month marking the country's 60th anniversary. South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers last week they believe the North Korean leader is recovering from a stroke.

North Korea has officially denied all reports of their leader's ailing health, calling them a worthless international conspiracy. South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo told Cabinet ministers this week to avoid provoking Korea by discussing intelligence. He reminded them that nobody knows how the situation with the North Korean leader will progress at this point.

South Korean media reports have included details from unnamed sources ranging from alleged convulsions being suffered by the North's leader, to speculation about whether or not he is able to brush his teeth by himself.

For South Koreans, Kim Jong Il's health is no matter of petty gossip, but a national security issue of the first order. He has absolute personal control of North Korea's secretive government, and he has never publicly named a successor. Any compromise of his health is viewed as potentially destabilizing to the North Korean system - and even to peace on the Korean peninsula.

Unification Minister Kim called reports of a possible post Kim Jong Il collapse of North Korea unhelpful Thursday, and warned they could further aggravate the already sensitive North-South relationship.

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