Monday, August 14, 2006

North Korea's Kim Jong Il finally appears

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has made his first public appearance since his country test-launched a barrage of missiles more than a month ago, official media reported Sunday.

Kim visited a farm run by an army unit and was accompanied by top generals, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. As usual with such reports, the exact time or location of the trip were not given.

Kim's absence from public view had fueled speculation of a possible crisis in the country in the wake of the missile tests and international reaction.

However, Kim has dropped from sight before for longer periods of time: In 2003, he was not reported to have ventured out for seven weeks after the country quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the United States moved toward invading Iraq.

Some North Korea watchers have speculated that Kim might have been in a bunker, since the country is believed to have imposed a quasi-war footing after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning the missile tests and calling for nations to stop any missile-related trade with it.

Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea analyst at the independent Sejong Institute, attributed Kim's latest absence to massive floods in North Korea, saying he has shied away from the public in times of crisis in the past.

[Associated Press]

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