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A North Korean defector who recently won a seat in South Korea’s parliament says he is convinced that Kim Jong Un is dead and that his sister will succeed him.
Ji Seong-ho, who attended the 2018 State of the Union address as a guest of President Donald Trump, said that North Korea may make an announcement about the dictator’s health in the next couple of days.
"I've wondered how long he could have endured after cardiovascular surgery. I've been informed that Kim died last weekend," Ji told the Yonhap News Agency. "It is not 100% certain, but I can say the possibility is 99%. North Korea is believed to be grappling with a complicated succession issue.”
The defector believes the delay in announcing Kim’s death is linked to the complex succession issue. Because Kim does not have an adult son to automatically take his place, much of the attention has focused on Kim Yo Jong, Kim’s 32-year-old sister and his closest aide. Ji said he believes she will succeed her brother to become North Korea’s first female leader.
Ji did not reveal where his information came from.
Reports of Kim’s ill health first emerged on April 20, when NK Daily, a website run by North Korean defectors, cited sources inside the hermit kingdom saying that Kim had undergone heart surgery on April 12.
Rumors about Kim’s health had been sparked by his absence from the important Day of the Sun anniversary celebrations on April 15. He has not been seen in public since April 11.
The initial reports were boosted by claims from U.S. intelligence sources who told U.S. media outlets that Kim was gravely ill or even “brain-dead.” Some of those claims were walked back, but rumors about Kim being in a vegetative state or dead have persisted in the weeks since.
Ji’s claims stand in contrast to those from South Korea’s intelligence agencies, which have consistently said there are no signs that Kim has died and that he is staying in his family’s compound in the coastal city of Wonsan. This was backed up by satellite imagery that shows Kim’s train and luxury yacht also in Wonsan.
Trump said this week that he knows how Kim is doing, but he wouldn't say what he knows or how he knows it.
Back in 2018, Trump called Ji’s story a “testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.”
Ji grew up during the North Korean famine of the mid-1990s and saw members of his family die of starvation.
In 1996, he was run over by a train while he was trying to steal coal to buy food. During a four-and-a-half-hour operation to save his life, doctors amputated one of his legs and his hand — all without the use of anesthetic.
After he recovered, Ji crossed the border into China to find food. On his return, the police took his crutches and tortured him for a week.
In 2006, he escaped into China with his brother and was ultimately reunited with his mother and sister in South Korea, where he went on to study law. This month he was elected as a member of the National Assembly.
Cover: In this April 11, 2020, file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)