SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean intelligence indicates that ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il suffered a serious setback and has been hospitalized, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
The report in the Dong-a Ilbo, citing an unnamed government official, comes a day after Japan's prime minister told lawmakers in Tokyo that Kim is probably in a hospital, though "not unable" to make decisions.
The chief of South Korea's National Intelligence Service had told lawmakers Tuesday that Kim was "not physically perfect" but still able to rule the country.
The spy agency and South Korea's Unification Ministry said Wednesday they were aware of the Dong-a report, but could not confirm it, saying only that intelligence obtained Sunday suggested "a serious problem" in Kim's health.
Kim, 66, reportedly suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery in August. North Korea, however, denies he is ill.
Speculation about the reclusive leader's health grew when he missed a September military parade marking North Korea's 60th anniversary. He then disappeared from public sight for two months.
North Korea has sought in recent weeks to tamp down rumors about Kim's health with news reports and footage portraying the leader as active and able, attending a soccer game and inspecting a military unit. The reports, photos and video are undated.
The latest footage, aired Monday and Tuesday on North Korean television, showed Kim hitting the road earlier this year to tour farms and factories and to see the sights across the communist North.
The 50-minute montage set to patriotic music showed a sprightly Kim in his trademark jumpsuit and sunglasses in film shot in May, months before his reported stroke.
Kim, who rules the Stalinist nation with absolute authority, has not publicly named any successors, leading to concerns about an uncertain future in the impoverished, nuclear-armed nation.
Japan's Fuji television reported Monday that Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, flew recently to Paris to recruit a neurosurgeon to treat his father. South Korea's spy chief Kim Sung-ho also said the son was believed to have traveled to France recently.
The French weekly Le Point said on its Web site Tuesday that French neurosurgeon Francois-Xavier Roux, who is a close friend of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, was traveling to North Korea to give medical care to Kim.
But Roux denied Wednesday that he was on a secret mission to North Korea. Reached by The Associated Press on his cell phone, the physician said he was in Beijing for a meeting of neurosurgeons — "nothing extraordinary."
"If I was at Kim Jong Il's bedside, I wouldn't be answering the phone," Roux said. "I am in Beijing. I am staying in Beijing."
Roux told the AP that his trip to China had nothing to do with Kim. He blamed the confusion on "a Japanese TV station (that) has done some brainwashing, some manipulation," apparently referring to the Fuji television report.