Seoul skeptical about North Korea’s account of leader’s death

Laura Rozen
December 21, 2011

How did North Korean leader Kim Jong Il really die?

South Korean spies are skeptical about the official Pyongyang line that Kim died of a heart attack while hard at work on a train Saturday morning, the Los Angeles Times' John Glionna reports from Seoul:

South Korea's top spy, Won Sei-hoon, told lawmakers in Seoul that a review of satellite photographs revealed that Kim's train was actually stationary at a Pyongyang station at the time of the ruler's death, as announced by the North, according to media reports.

"There were no signs the train ever moved," South Korean media quoted Won as telling officials.

South Korean media reported rumors circulating among national lawmakers that Kim Jong Il actually died in his bed at his Pyongyang residence. But the image of a sickly, weakened and prone "Dear Leader" taking his last breaths may not have sounded sufficiently patriotic to suit Pyongyang's propaganda machine.

So maybe, just maybe, the North Koreans pulled a page from Hollywood and ... did a rewrite! The image of an indefatigable Kim dying while on a "field guidance tour" better fits the legacy of a dictator who didn't know quit.

Some South Korean media reports, however, speculate on more nefarious circumstances under which Kim Jong Il might have perished--although without offering any evidence, the National Post's Peter Goodspeed reports. Seoul's Korea Times newspaper cites political scientist An Chan-il "as saying Mr. Kim may have been killed by elements within the North Korean government who disagreed with his policies," Goodspeed writes. Kim's emissaries had reportedly been close to finalizing an agreement with the United States to allow nuclear inspectors to return to the Hermit Kingdom in exchange for U.S. food aid when his death occurred.

Then again, Glionna notes, South Korean intelligence officials may have another motive for promoting the alternative theories: namely, saving face.

That's because South Korean intelligence and their American counterparts were reportedly caught entirely flat-footed by Kim's death, and apparently did not have the slightest inkling of it until North Korean official state media reported it some 50 hours later on Monday.

"South Korean media have reported that Seoul officials learned about Kim's death on Monday along with the rest of the world," Glionna writes, when it was announced--on television.

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