x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Photo raises questions over Kim's health

North Korean state media apparently recycle an old photo of leader Kim Jong-il, raising speculation his health may have worsened.

North Korean state media this month apparently recycled an old photo of leader Kim Jong-il, raising speculation that his health may have worsened, a report said today. South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said a photo of Mr Kim visiting an army unit - broadcast by a television station on June 14 - was apparently a retouched version of a picture carried by the official news agency seven weeks earlier. Both photos show Mr Kim in the front row of a group of soldiers. A background placard and ceiling lights appear identical in both, but some people at either end of the front rank have apparently been deleted from the later picture.

The first photo released by the news agency on April 25 illustrated a report that Mr Kim visited the 851st Unit of the army. The second one, shown on state television on June 14, purportedly showed him visiting the 7th Infantry Division. The 67 year old is widely believed to have suffered a stroke last August, and appeared frailer and older in pictures released this year. Another photo released June 14 shows the leader wearing a thick winter jacket despite the summer temperature.

The two army units are not far from each other, near the eastern city of Wonsan. "It's possible that North Korea put different dates to visits to the two military units at similar times," the paper quoted an unidentified intelligence officer as saying. The National Intelligence Service and the unification ministry had no comment to make on the report. "If the North used the same photo again to make it look as if Mr Kim was in good health, it shows that the regime is unstable," Nam Joo-Hong, a North Korea expert and professor at Kyonggi University, told Chosun.

It was not the first time that official photos of the leader have raised questions. Last October state media released the first pictures of Mr Kim since his reported stroke about mid-August. But a Seoul intelligence source said the background foliage indicated the pictures were taken before the stroke. The North's policy has grown notably harder-line this year, with a long-range rocket launch in April and a second nuclear test in May.

US and South Korean officials believe the ailing Mr Kim is projecting an image of strength to bolster his authority as he prepares one of his sons for a takeover. * AFP