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(LEAD) Minister says N.K. media reports suggest Kim executes state affairs normally

All Headlines 11:45 April 28, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS FM Kang's remarks in paras 9-13, photo)
By Koh Byung-joon and Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korean state media have continued reports on leader Kim Jong-un's work in an indication that he is handling state affairs normally, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said Tuesday, amid persisting speculation about the leader's health.

Kim Jong-un has stayed out of public view for about two weeks since he was last seen in a political bureau meeting of the ruling Workers' Party on April 11, but North Korean media outlets have reported on his daily routine schedule, according to the minister.

"North Korean media outlets have put out reports related to Chairman Kim's work since his attendance of a politburo meeting, suggesting that he has been carrying out state affairs in a normal way," he told lawmakers.

North Korean state media have recently carried reports on Kim's schedule, such as sending diplomatic letters and conveying gifts to honored citizens, but they have not provided information on Kim's whereabouts or health conditions.

The official Korean Central News Agency said late Monday that Kim sent a congratulatory telegram message to the South Africa president in the latest report on the leader's management of state affairs.

Speculation about Kim's health has spread since he apparently skipped an annual visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the occasion of the April 15 birthday of the late founder and his grandfather Kim Il-sung.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (L) and Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul speak during a parliamentary session at the National Assembly in Seoul on April 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

Unconfirmed media reports have since speculated that Kim might be "in grave danger" after surgery, but South Korean officials have repeatedly disputed these claims, saying no unusual signs have been detected from North Korea.

Officials in Seoul said that Kim appears to be staying in the eastern coastal town of Wonsan. U.S monitoring website 38 North earlier reported that commercial satellite imagery showed a train probably belonging to Kim was spotted in the region since at least April 21.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, who was also present at the parliamentary session, downplayed the speculation.

"Despite a series of recent media reports, no unusual signs have been detected inside North Korea," she told the parliament. "We are closely monitoring the trend related to North Korea's external policy, given the recent reshuffle of its diplomacy lineup that came on the occasion of the Supreme People's Assembly meeting."

The North's state media reported on April 13 that Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon and Kim Hyong-jun, head of the international affairs department of the Workers' Party of Korea, have been elected as members of the State Affairs Commission, the regime's decision-making body led by leader Kim.

Kang said that North Korea appears to have been focusing on managing internal and external affairs to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"While it maintains it has no coronavirus patients, it has put weight on beefing up its health and medical capabilities," she said, citing reports on the groundbreaking ceremony of a hospital in Pyongyang and the expansion of its health budget.

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Turmp said he knows how Kim Jong-un is doing and wishes him well.

"I do have a very good idea, but I can't talk about it now. I just wish him well," Trump said during a White House press conference. "I hope he's fine. I do know how he's doing, relatively speaking. You will probably be hearing in the not too distant future.
Trump later added, "Nobody knows where he is."

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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