NKorea's Kim signals he is back in control: analysts

Speculation about the state of Kim Jong Il's health began a

month ago

SEOUL (AFP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, rumoured to have suffered a stroke, has sent a signal he has recovered and is back in control with his first reported public outing in 51 days, analysts said Sunday.

Kim failed to appear at a September 9 parade to mark the hardline communist state's 60th anniversary, triggering intense speculation about his health and concerns about who would take over in his absence, or if he died.

South Korean officials have said Kim underwent brain surgery after a stroke but was recovering well, while North Korean officials have denied any illness.

But the official Korean Central News Agency said late Saturday 66-year-old Kim had attended a student football match to mark the anniversary of the founding of Kim Il-Sung University, the nation's top education institute.

The state news agency did not say when the match took place, but the 62nd anniversary fell on Wednesday, according to North Korean official media.

The North's radio and TV broadcasters on Sunday continued to report of Kim's attendance -- but without using photographs or video footage of the event -- according to Yonhap news agency, Seoul's key monitor of the North Korean media.

"Kim is sending out a message at home and abroad that there exists no problem at all in his republic," Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korean analyst and professor at Korea University in Seoul, told AFP.

"The North Korean leader has chosen to make a natural, not noisy or dramatic, return. Though seemingly smooth, it is pretty much calculated by the North to say 'Look, our republic is perfectly fine'."

He predicted North Korea's media would gradually increase its reporting of Kim's public appearances to emphasise the point.

But a North Korean analyst at a Seoul government thinktank told AFP the lack of footage case doubt on his actual appearance at the match, and speculation about his health would continue unless it was released.

"Otherwise, the speculations about Kim's health will hardly die down or even spread further," warned the analyst, who requested anonymity.

Kim's health has long been the subject of speculation since he has not publicly nominated a successor to run the nuclear-armed state which struggles to feed its impoverished people.

Kim officially took over from his father, founding president Kim Il-Sung, in 1997, in the communist world's only dynastic succession.

His reported illness coincided with major problems with a nuclear disarmament agreement with the United States and other nations.

North Korea began disabling its nuclear complex in November last year in anticipation of one million tons of fuel aid. But it has recently backtracked, blaming the US for breaking its promise by not removing the North from a terrorist blacklist.

Paik Haksoon, a senior North Korea expert at the South's Sejong Institute, told Yonhap the reported appearance would ally fears among the North Korean public about their "Dear Leader."

"The Korean Central News Agency report ... is likely to have an effect of allaying much of the public concerns about Kim Jong-Il's health," Paik said.

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