A tantalizing rumor swept though the thin ranks of North Korea watchers in Asia and America a few days ago, speculating that the "Dear Leader" in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il, had been placed under house arrest by disgruntled military officers.
The rumor was quickly denied in Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington but not before it raised intriguing questions--how did the rumor originate and why did it make serious analysts of North Korea sit up and take notice?
As with many rumors, it was not clear where this one started. One account said a South Korean intelligence agency planted it in a Japanese news service. Another said the Tokyo news service picked it up carelessly from an advertisement for a novel about North Korea. Whatever the facts, it rippled out swiftly from there.
Even if only a rumor, it underscored how little the outside world knows about the secretive hermit kingdom in Pyongyang; North Korea watchers thus grasp at every tidbit that leaks out. More important, it raised the question of "regime change," meaning the overthrow of Kim Jong Il or otherwise seeing him pass from the scene.
Kim probably has more power centralized in his hands than any ruler in the world. So far as is known, however, he has fended off naming a successor even though he is reported to be in ill health as he approaches his 65th birthday on Feb. 16.
[Excerpt of Opinion page by Richard Halloran, Real Clear Politics]