North Korean defectors apologise after making ‘false claims’ over Kim Jong-un’s death

A former senior North Korean diplomat has apologised after saying Kim Jong-un was probably so ill he could not stand, days before he was seen at an event attended by hundreds of officials.

Concerns about Kim’s health emerged when he disappeared from state media for three weeks.

High-profile defectors from the country suggested that Kim was suffering from a grave illness or could be even dead, but North Korean media put the rumours to bed on Saturday.

The state news agency KCNA released pictures showing Kim cutting a ribbon at the opening of a fertiliser factory in Sunchon with other senior officials, including his sister Kim Yo Jong.

It was Kim’s first reported public appearance since April 11, when he presided over a ruling Workers’ Party meeting to discuss the coronavirus.

His re-emergence came as a blow to the credibility of some high-profile defectors from North Korea, who speculated that Kim was suffering from a “grave illness”.

One of the defectors, Tha Yong-Ho, was North Korea’s ambassador to Britain, where he managed secret funds for Kim, Reuters reports.

He said in a statement: “I am aware that one of the reasons why many of you voted for me as a lawmaker is with the expectations of an accurate analysis and projections on North Korean issues.

“I feel the blame and heavy responsibility. Whatever the reasons, I apologise to everyone.”

Another defector elected to Parliament, Ji Seong-ho, said in a media interview that he was 99 per cent certain that Kim had died after cardiovascular surgery and an official announcement would come as soon as Saturday.

“I have pondered on myself for the past few days, and felt the weight of the position that I’m in,” said Ji in a statement.

“As a public figure, I will behave carefully going forward.”

South Korea’s Government had repeatedly downplayed speculation that Mr Kim, believed to be 36, was in poor health following surgery.

In 2014, Kim vanished from the public eye for nearly six weeks and then reappeared with a cane. South Korea’s spy agency said he had a cyst removed from his ankle.