October 19, 2008 in Nation/World

Inscrutable North Korea plans announcement

By Barbara Demick Los Angeles Times

BEIJING – North Korean diplomats abroad have been told not to travel in order to prepare for an “important announcement,” Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported Saturday.

The report prompted another round of speculation that North Korea’s secretive leader Kim Jong Il has either died or is incapacitated. The Japanese newspaper did not indicate when the announcement might be made.

In recent weeks, Pyongyang had denied reports that the 67-year-old Kim is seriously ill following a stroke.

When the nation’s founder and father of the present leader, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994, North Korean officials were also told to stand by for an important announcement.

However, North Korea experts said that the announcement could be related to other international matters. Pyongyang has been expected for some time to schedule a congress of the ruling Workers’ Party, an event which could be used to announce a new economic policy as well as to clear up uncertainty about the succession. The last such event was the sixth party congress in 1980, when Kim Jong Il was officially designated his father’s successor.

“They are overdue to hold a party congress to announce a new generation of leaders and a new economic policy,” said Leonid Petrov, a North Korea expert, speaking from Dandong, at the Chinese-North Korean border.

Another possibility is that North Korea is preparing to break off communications with South Korea because of tensions with a new conservative government in Seoul.

Although North Korea blocks its citizens from receiving foreign media reports, rumors of Kim Jong Il’s poor health have been spreading inside the country, causing anxiety about the future. Kim has no obvious successor – with three sons and various other relatives and party cadres all vying for power. Experts believe Kim’s death could trigger a violent power struggle within or even lead to the collapse of the regime.

Trying to project an image of stability, North Korea earlier this month released photographs showing a healthy-looking Kim Jong Il inspecting a military unit. But analysts say the foliage in the background of the photographs suggests they were taken in the summer.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email