WASHINGTON / SEOUL:
A special train, possibly owned by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was spotted in a country resort this week. This comes from satellite imagery, which was checked by a Washington-based surveillance project in North Korea under conflicting reports about Kim's health and whereabouts.
Surveillance project 38 North announced in its report on Saturday that the train was parked at the "lead station" in Wonsan on April 21 and 23. The station was reserved for use by the Kim family.
Although the group said it was probably Kim Jong Un's train, Reuters could not independently confirm this or whether he was in Wonsan.
"The presence of the train does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader, nor does he indicate his health, but it does give weight to reports that Kim is in an elite area on the country's east coast," the report said.
Speculation about Kim's health first emerged on April 15 due to his absence for the birthday of North Korean founding father and Kim's grandfather Kim Il Sung.
North Korean state media recently reported Kim's whereabouts when he chaired a meeting on April 11.
China has sent a team to North Korea that includes medical experts to advise Kim Jong Un, three people familiar with the situation.
Kim is a third generation hereditary leader who came to power after his father's death in 2011. He has no clear successor in a nuclear-armed country that could pose a major international risk.
On Thursday, US President Donald Trump downplayed reports that Kim was sick. "I think the report was wrong," Trump told reporters, but declined to say whether he was in touch with North Korean officials.
Trump has met Kim three times to convince him to abandon a nuclear weapons program that threatens both the United States and its Asian neighbors. While talks have stalled, Trump has continued to celebrate Kim as a friend.
REPORTS AND CONTROLS
Reporting from North Korea is known to be difficult because the information is strictly controlled.
A Trump administration official said the continuing days of North Korean media silence about Kim's whereabouts had raised concerns about his condition, and information on a country that the US secret service had long viewed as a "black box" was poor remained.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to questions about the situation on Saturday.
The daily NK, a Seoul-based website that reports on North Korea, cited an unnamed source in North Korea on Monday, saying that Kim had received medical treatment in the resort town of Hyangsan, north of the capital, Pyongyang.
Kim was said to have recovered after a cardiovascular procedure on April 12.
Since then, several South Korean media reports have cited unnamed sources this week saying Kim may be staying in the Wonsan area.
On Friday, local news agency Newsis cited South Korean intelligence sources as reporting that a special train for Kim's operation had been seen in Wonsan while Kim's private plane remained in Pyongyang.
Newsis reported that Kim may be protecting against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Kim, who is believed to be 36 years old, previously disappeared from coverage in the North Korean state media. In 2014, he disappeared for more than a month and the North Korean state television later showed him with a limp.
Speculations about his health have been fueled by his heavy smoking, apparent weight gain since taking power, and family history of cardiovascular problems.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)