North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's train spotted while he remains out of sight

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un waves before boarding his train at the Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam on March 2, 2019.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un waves before boarding his train at the Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam on March 2, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - A train resembling the one used by Kim Jong Un was spotted again near a coastal leadership compound, according to satellite imagery analysed by 38 North, as the North Korean leader's unusual absence from the public continued.

The special train was seen Wednesday (April 29) parked at a station near the eastern resort area of Wonsan where it had been repeatedly spotted since April 21, 38 North reported, adding that it couldn't be considered as proof of Kim's presence.

Speculation about Kim's whereabouts have focused on the area, where a top South Korean foreign policy adviser said he's been staying - "alive and well" - since April 13.

Additional satellite imagery reviewed by the website NK Pro showed boats similar to those associated with the North Korean leader active in the waters near Wonsan throughout this month. The craft made unusual movements on April 14, when North Korea fired off a flurry of short range missiles.

Kim, 36, has been the subject of global speculation since reports emerged April 20 that he had undergone a cardiovascular procedure the previous week. Kim hasn't appeared in North Korean state media since April 12, failing for the first time as leader to attend celebrations marking the birthday of his grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung.

While such absences aren't unprecedented - Kim dropped out of the public eye for six weeks in 2014 and three weeks last year - they are unusual. The episode has underscored concerns about instability in the secretive, impoverished and nuclear-armed state because Kim has named no clear successor since taking power after his own father's death eight years ago.

US officials told Bloomberg News last week that they were told the North Korean leader was in critical condition after the procedure, but were unaware of his current status. Top South Korean officials said Tuesday they were aware of Kim's location, without elaborating, hours after US President Donald Trump told reporters that "nobody knows where he is."

 
 
 

The Wonsan compound has been in the Kim family for decades and the North Korean leader spent a large part of his youth there, racing jet skis in nearby waters in summer and making the development of the area one of his signature projects. The surrounding area has also been a major centre for missile launches under Kim, where he has been on hand to witness the testing of his regime's newest weapons.

The area saw a burst of military activity on April 14, including cruise missile tests and fighter jet manoeuvres. Ri Jong Ho, a high-profile North Korean defector who now lives in the US, told the Seoul-based DongA Daily newspaper that Kim may have been injured in the exercises.