Fears are held for the immediate health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after his absence from a key public event.
The regime’s leader is receiving treatment after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure early this month, a South Korean media report says.
Daily NK, a speciality website run mostly by North Korean defectors, cited unidentified sources inside the isolated state saying Kim is recovering at a villa in the Mount Kumgang resort county of Hyangsan on the east coast after getting the procedure on April 12 at a hospital there.
However CNN reported the leader’s health could be much worse than is publicly known.
According to the outlet, the US is monitoring intelligence that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in grave danger after the surgery, citing a US official.
South Korea unable to confirm reports on Kim Jong-un
CNN sought clarification of the US reports from South Korean authorities.
A South Korean source told CNN that the country's top leaders are very much aware of reports about Kim's health status but cannot independently verify details published by Daily NK.
In a statement, a spokesman for the South's presidential Blue House said: "We have nothing to confirm and no special movement has been detected inside North Korea as of now."
And the South's Yonhap news agency cited an unnamed government official saying that reports Kim was seriously ill were "not true".
Reporting from inside North Korea is notoriously difficult, especially on matters concerning the country's leadership, given tight controls on information.
Kim’s health deteriorating for months
Kim's health has deteriorated in recent months due to heavy smoking, obesity and overwork, the Daily NK report said.
"My understanding is that he had been struggling (with cardiovascular problems) since last August but it worsened after repeated visits to Mount Paektu," a source was quoted as saying, referring to the country's sacred mountain.
Kim left for the hospital after presiding over a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's politburo on April 11, where Kim was publicly last seen, the report said.
Such military events would usually be observed by Kim, but there was no KCNA report on the test at all.
The North Korean leader disappeared from the public eye for more than a month in 2014, which at the time also prompted speculation about his health.
Kim’s demise could lead to power struggle
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was asked about the report on Tuesday afternoon and said his office was waiting for the facts to become clearer.
“I can't really offer any comment on that because I can't provide any confirmation of it,” he told reporters.
“So until these facts are more clearly determined, there is not really much I can offer.”
It could be days, if not weeks, for the latest speculation to be cleared up, but reacting to the early news Californian congressman Ted Lieu said the eventual demise of the North Korean dictator could lead to an intense power struggle.
“North Korea does not have an official line of succession. If Kim Jong-un were to pass away, there would likely be an immediate and intense power struggle,” he wrote on Twitter.
“History also teaches us that totalitarian states don’t end if the leader dies. But it could provide opportunities for change.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.