U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that American officials “haven’t seen” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently, amid rumors that he may have died.
Reports last weekend claimed that Kim died after falling into a vegetative state following a heart procedure. The rumors have not been confirmed, but Pompeo did say this week that U.S. officials are not sure where he might be right now. As the BBC reported, he said during an interview with Fox News that the government is following the developments closely, as there is the potential for a humanitarian disaster within the country.
“We haven’t seen him. We don’t have any information to report today, we’re watching it closely,” Pompeo said. “There is a real risk that there will be a famine, a food shortage, inside of North Korea too.”
President Donald Trump said over the weekend that he believed rumors of Kim’s death were based on old or outdated information, and publicly wished the North Korean leader well.
There has been rising speculation on the health of the North Korean leader after he was not present at an April 15 ceremony marking the birth anniversary of his late grandfather, the founding father of North Korea. Kim also missed a military exercise that accompanied the ceremony — an event he rarely misses.
Some South Korean officials have pushed back against claims that Kim is dead, saying that he instead has retreated to the coastal resort city of Wonsan.
“He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13,” Chung-in Moon, foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told Fox News. “No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”
There is other evidence that Kim may be staying in the resort town, where some sources claimed he escaped to avoid a coronavirus outbreak in those close to him. This week, satellite photos showed luxury boats he used near the resort, with reports stating that his private train was sighted there as well.
The North Korean government has added to the uncertainty surrounding Kim’s condition by remaining tight-lipped, not responding to the reports that he had either fallen seriously ill or passed away. The country has also not released information about COVID-19 cases there, initially saying there were no instances of people being infected by the coronavirus. However, public health experts raised some concerns that the virus could have a devastating effect on the largely impoverished people.