(ATTN: UPDATES with more comments by presidential official in paras 12-15)
SEOUL, May 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears not to have undergone surgery, a presidential official said Sunday, flatly denying speculation over Kim's health.
"There were media reports speculating about Chairman Kim's surgery, citing a change in the way he walks," a senior Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters, saying the presidential office judges this not to be true.
When asked whether the North Korean leader did not even go through a relatively moderate medical procedure, the official replied yes.
The official, who asked not to be named, however, refused to unveil the grounds that this judgment was made upon.
The North's state media reported on Saturday that Kim cut the tape at a ceremony marking the completion of the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang, on Friday.
This marked the North Korean leader's first public appearance in 20 days since April 11, when he presided over a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party.
His absence from an annual event marking the April 15 birth anniversary of his late grandfather and national founder Kim Il-sung had fanned speculation he might be seriously ill.
Despite media reports speculating on his illness, officials in Seoul have repeatedly said there are no unusual signs in North Korea and that Kim is believed to be staying in the country's eastern coastal town of Wonsan.
In a parliamentary meeting, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul referred to the unconfirmed reports as "fake news" and an "infodemic."
"We have intelligence capacity that allows us to say confidently there are no unusual signs," Kim said.
The Cheong Wa Dae official, meanwhile, downplayed reports suggesting that the fertilizer plant may be mobilized to extract uranium for the North's nuclear activities, saying they are not credible.
The official also expressed regret over false claims about Kim's health by two North Korean defectors-turned-lawmaker-elects, saying it would be better if the two offered a clear apology.
Thae Yong-ho, a former No. 2 diplomat at North Korea's Embassy in London, who was elected to South Korea's parliament last month, told CNN last week that "one thing is clear ... he cannot stand up by himself or walk properly."
Thae said in a Facebook message on Saturday that his analysis on Kim's health was off the mark, though he said he has lingering questions about Kim's health.
Ji Seong-ho, who earned a proportional representation seat of a minor political party in last month's elections, had claimed he was "99 percent sure" of Kim's death and that Pyongyang may make related announcements this weekend. Ji was invited to U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union Address in 2018.
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