A photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il shown on the state's official media this month may be a recycled old picture, raising speculation that his health may have worsened.
The still photo of the 67-year-old reclusive ruler appears to be a doctored version of one published back in April by the country's official news agency, the The Associated Press reported. In the image, broadcast by state TV on June 14, Kim is shown purportedly visiting the 851st army unit, surrounded by military brass.
The picture bears a striking similarity to an April 25 shot of Kim standing front and center of a group of top army generals, according to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo. The report cited unidentified intelligence officials who said there was a "a high possibility" the old image was retouched and reused.
The two photos feature the same ceiling lights and a background placard calling for loyalty to the leader. Kim also sports a thick winter coat in both images, despite the June temperature. The positioning of many of people in the photos is by and large the same — except for some figures who were deleted in the later image.
Kim's health has been watched closely since he reportedly suffered a stroke last August. His current health is somewhat of a mystery, but he looked more gaunt and frail than ever in an April appearance in parliament.
Nam Ju-hong, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Kyonggi University, said Kim's made so many public appearances this year while recovering from his stroke — probably to curb speculation about his reportedly poor health — that he may have collapsed again. The Unification Ministry said last week that Kim has made 77 public appearances this year, compared to 49 during the same period last year.
Amid apparent health problems, U.S. and South Korean officials believe the infamous Kim is doing all he can to project an image of strength as he prepares to tap his youngest son as the communist nation's next leader. The 26-year-old Kim Jong Un recently took command of the country's powerful spy agency.