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Two North Korea defectors apologize for rumor about Kim’s death

The photo, taken on April 15, 2020, shows defector and former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho (C) prepares to speak to the media before securing a majority vote in his Gangnam constituency on behalf of the conservative United Future Party (UFP) during South Korea's parliamentary elections, at his campaign headquarters in the Gangnam district of Seoul. (By AFP)

Two defector-turned-lawmakers in South Korea have apologized for publicly raising suspicions over the health of Kim Jong-un, after a recent appearance by the North Korean leader ended a global speculation about his well-being.

Thae Yong-ho, who won a parliamentary seat during last month’s general elections, in a statement on Monday apologized for saying that one thing for certain was that Kim cannot stand up by himself or walk properly.

“I am aware that one of the reasons why many of you voted for me as a lawmaker is with the expectations of an accurate analysis and projections on North Korean issues,” Thae said.

“I feel the blame and heavy responsibility.”

“Whatever the reasons, I apologize to everyone.”

The other prominent defector, Ji Seong-ho, also apologized to the public and promised to behave with more caution.

“I have pondered on myself for the past few days, and felt the weight of the position that I'm in,” Ji said.

“As a public figure, I will behave carefully going forward.”

Ji had claimed last week that he was 99 percent sure that Kim was dead after cardiovascular surgery.

South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party criticized the pair for carelessness and said their mistake could do more serious harm than just misinforming the public.

One party member urged them to be excluded from the intelligence and defense committees, while another said the defectors contributed little to the South Korean society.

A group of activists lodged a complaint with prosecutors accusing the duo and the main opposition party chief of spreading false information.

Ji's party acknowledged he had made "rash, careless" remarks but criticized the ruling party for undermining the two and "instigating hatred" about them.

Recent reappearance of Kim following about 20 days of absence had raised widespread speculation about his health and whereabouts.

On Saturday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the North Korean leader had inaugurated a fertilizer plant in a region lying north of the capital Pyongyang.

It was the first such report featuring Kim in attendance since April 11.

At the event, Kim was accompanied by several senior North Korean officials and his younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who is regarded as the most likely candidate to step in as successor in case her brother dies or becomes incapacitated.

The South Korean Yonhap news agency cited a senior government official as saying on Sunday that Kim had not undergone surgery during his absence.

The official rejected as untrue reports that Kim may have had surgery, citing some differences in his leg movements, without providing a reason for the absence.

The Daily NK, an online media outlet run by North Korean defectors, reported that Kim had undergone a cardiovascular surgery. 

Speculation about his death emerged especially after his absence from the April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather and North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung.

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