Kim Sung-ho, director of the National Intelligence Service, attends a National Assembly session on intelligence, Wednesday. The Assembly convened the closed-door session following reports on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s health problems. / Korea Times Photo by Choi Jong-uk
By Na Jeong-ju
South Korea’s top intelligence officer told lawmakers Wednesday that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il has undergone surgery for a stroke, but is not dead nor in a critical condition.
``Our intelligence suggests Kim is recovering from a stroke,’’ National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Kim Sung-ho was quoted as saying during a closed-door session of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee.
The spy chief said, ``His health is not good enough to engage in outdoor activities, but he is recovering. He is alive,’’ according to Rep. Won Hye-young of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) who belongs to the committee.
NIS director Kim also said there have been no indications showing the North is preparing for a power transfer. The agency became aware of Kim’s health problems in mid-August, he added.
Other intelligence officers also denied reports suggesting that the 66-year-old North Korean leader was seriously ill.
``It appears to be true that Kim is ill,’’ an NIS officer said. ``However, our tentative conclusion is that his illness is not life threatening. He suffered a stroke and underwent surgery, but is recovering.’’
The officer added that Kim won’t be able to perform his job as the chairman of the North’s Defense Committee for the time being.
``Kim is old and his health is deteriorating. We are keeping a close watch on his condition,’’ he said.
Kim missed a military parade in central Pyongyang commemorating the 60th anniversary of the country’s founding Tuesday, sparking widespread speculation that he has serious health problems.
In an interview with Japan’s Kyodo News, the communist country’s No.2 leader Kim Yong-nam denied Kim Jong-il had health problems, without making further comments on his condition.
The news agency also quoted Song Il-ho, Pyongyang’s top negotiator for talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations with Japan, as saying, ``We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot.’’
President Lee Myung-bak convened a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) in the evening to discuss the North Korean situation. He also held an unscheduled meeting with his secretaries early in the morning.
It is the second time that the President has convened an NSC meeting since his inauguration in February. The first one took place when a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist at the Mt. Geumgang resort in the North in July.
``We are gathering further intelligence to check whether Kim Jong-il is really okay,’’ said a Cheong Wa Dae spokesman. ``President Lee discussed countermeasures and contingency plans with related officials and ordered the military to beef up security on the border with North Korea.’’
Military officials said Kim has not appeared at official events since Aug. 14.
``The fact that Kim didn’t attend the military parade and the North downsized the ceremony indicates that there is something wrong with him,’’ a Defense Ministry spokesman said. ``We are closely monitoring the North Korea situation, but there have no unusual activities by its military.’’