Satellite images showing recent movements of luxury boats, often used by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his entourage near Wonsan, provide further evidence that, according to experts monitoring the withdrawn regime, he was in the coastal town .
Speculation about Kim's health and situation broke out after his unprecedented absence on April 15 to mark the birthday of his late grandfather and North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung.
On Tuesday, the North Korean surveillance website NK PRO reported that commercial satellite imagery showed that boats that Kim used a lot had made motions in patterns that suggested that he or his entourage may be in the Wonsan region.
This followed a report from a US-based surveillance project in North Korea, 38 North, in which satellite images showed that Kim's personal train was parked at a station reserved for its use in the Wonsan mansion.
Officials in South Korea and the United States say it is plausible that Kim could stay there, possibly to avoid exposure to the new corona virus, and have been skeptical of media reports that he had a serious illness.
However, they warn that Kim's health and location are closely guarded secrets and reliable information is hard to come by in North Korea.
The last time official media in North Korea reported Kim's whereabouts was when he headed a meeting on April 11, but there were almost daily reports that he sent letters and diplomatic messages.
Kim's coastal property in Wonsan on the country's east coast is littered with guest villas and, according to experts and satellite imagery, is served by a private beach, basketball court, and private train station. A runway was graded to build a riding track last year, while a boathouse near Kim's luxury yacht Princess 95 was worth around $ 7 million in 2013.
"It's one of his favorite homes," said Michael Madden, a North Korea executive at the U.S. Stimson Center, who compared Kim's affinity for Wonsan with President Donald Trump's favorite resort, Mar-a-Lago, Florida.
Madden said Kim has about 13 major connections across the country, although he appears to only use about half of them regularly.
"All of them are set up as the leader's headquarters, so they're all equipped to run the country," he said.
Wonsan is one of the larger and better-equipped buildings, but it also has a convenient location that allows Kim to easily travel to other areas along the coast, or quickly by his private train or via a special highway that can only be used by The Kim family or top officials will return to Pyongyang, Madden said.
Wonsan also has symbolic power for the Kim dynasty: it was there that Kim Il Sung, who contributed to the founding of North Korea at the end of Japanese colonial rule in 1945, landed for the first time with Soviet troops to take over the country.
Some experts believe that Wonsan is the birthplace of Kim Jong Un, also because he spent his early years in the family palace there, although official history never confirmed where he was born.
Japanese chef Kenji Fujimoto, who worked for the Kims and visited Wonsan, told in his memoirs how a young Kim Jong Un played inline skating, playing basketball, jet skiing, and playing in the pool on the premises.
Later, photos showed Kim sipping a drink with American basketball player Dennis Rodman when the star visited North Korea in 2013.
The Wonsan area has also become a symbol of Kim's survival strategy, based on a combination of economic development, tourism, and nuclear weapons. He is rebuilding the city with 360,000 inhabitants and wants to turn it into a billion dollar tourist hotspot.
The project has been repeatedly delayed in recent months, partially undermined by international sanctions against the north's nuclear and missile programs, which have limited its ability to seek foreign investment.
Wonsan was also the scene of some of Kim's renewed military drills and missile tests, which he resumed amid increasing frustration and lack of progress in denuclearization talks with the United States and South Korea.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)