North Korea may make an "important" announcement tomorrow, amid rumours that reclusive leader Kim Jong-il has fallen seriously ill, a Japanese media report said. Japan's Sankei Shimbun newspaper, quoting an unnamed defence ministry source, said today that an "announcement of important information will be made on October 20." "It is not clear whether the set of information is related to the health of Kim," the conservative newspaper said.
North Korea could move to ban foreigners from entering the Stalinist state from tomorrow, the Sankei said, quoting several unnamed sources. The defence ministry source told the newspaper that no major military movements have been detected in North Korea. The Japanese foreign ministry declined to comment on the Sankei report, which cited unsubstantiated rumours that the secretive North could announce Kim's death or a change in leadership following a coup.
Reports of Kim's illness surfaced after he failed to appear at the country's 60th anniversary parade on Sept 9. South Korean officials have said he underwent brain surgery following a stroke around mid-August. South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, cast doubt on the reports. The ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said it has not detected any unusual signs across the heavily fortified border with North Korea such as a strengthened security posture or an increase in telephone calls. The National Intelligence Service - South Korea's main spy agency - said it could not confirm the Japanese reports. In a dispatch today from the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed source in Beijing as saying some North Korean Embassy officials who left on business trips have not returned. In Washington, State Department spokesman Noel Clay said he couldn't comment on what the reported announcement might be. On Sunday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency published typical propaganda dispatches praising Mr Kim's regime and criticising the South Korean government. There were no articles indicating any imminent government announcement. North Korean state television a week ago aired photographs of Kim inspecting a women's artillery base, although a US official doubted that the images were recent. Some reports said Mr Kim suffered partial paralysis.
The Sankei report came one day after Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun said North Korea had ordered its diplomats overseas to prepare for an "important announcement" that may be related to Mr Kim's health. The Yomiuri, quoting several unnamed sources familiar with North Korean issues, said yesterday that Pyongyang's diplomats had been ordered not to travel ahead of the announcement, which was expected in a few days.
The Japanese government learned about the order on Friday, the Sankei said. It quoted another unnamed source as saying: "It is clear that North Korea is alarmed about the inflow of information and contact with the outside world. It may be a measure to tighten up internal affairs." *AFP