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N. Korea's Kim Jong-il resurfaces after disappearing amid tension

All Headlines 15:39 June 02, 2010

By Sam Kim

SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has apparently made his first public appearance since South Korea blamed the communist country for the March sinking of a warship near their western sea border.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Wednesday that Kim, 68, watched a concert by a military propaganda band, his first public appearance in 12 days. The report did not say when or where the performance took place, but Pyongyang's media usually report on Kim's activities a day late.

The last time Kim's outing was reported was on May 21, a day after Seoul condemned Pyongyang for the sinking of its 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan and the deaths of 46 of its crew members.

North Korea denies its role in the sinking.

Kim's disappearance from the public eye suggested the urgency of the sinking issue that has taken up the North Korean leadership. The North is waging both domestic and foreign campaigns to brand the results of a multinational probe into the sinking as fabricated.

"Kim Jong-il congratulated the performers on their successful presentation," the KCNA said, quoting Kim as calling his troops "indomitable fighters who cherish the spirit of devotedly defending the leader and the spirit of becoming human bombs."

Kim's re-emergence comes five days before North Korea holds its rare second rubber-stamp parliamentary session of the year.

Observers expect the Supreme People's Assembly to back a series of economic reforms, including those needed to boost cooperation between China and North Korea. Kim met with Chinese President Hu Jintao when he visited the neighboring benefactor from May 3-7.

The KCNA reported Kim's "field guidance" trips for six straight days ending May 21. Since that week, tension has flared between the two Koreas, with the North warning of an "all-out war" against punishment over the sinking.

Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008. He has since stepped up his public activities. The number of his outings reached an all-time high last year, coming at about 200.

samkim@yna.co.kr
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