SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea released a new batch of photographs of Kim Jong Il on Wednesday, apparently seeking to show that the country's absolute leader is not ill and has no problem in running the communist regime.
South Korean and U.S. officials suspect that Kim suffered a serious health setback, possibly a stroke, in August. North Korea denies the speculation and has recently released a series of photos and news reports portraying Kim as active and healthy.
Kim's health is of keen interest because he rules the isolated, nuclear-armed nation with absolute authority and has not publicly named any successor.
On Wednesday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency released photos showing leader Kim posing with dozens of soldiers during a visit to two military units — Unit 2200 and a sub-unit of Unit 534. The report, however, did not say when Kim made the trips or where the two units are located.
In a close-up photo, posted on the Web site of Yonhap news agency, Kim was seen with his usual bouffant hairstyle, wearing his trademark sunglasses and a white winter parka.
One of the two wide-shot photos also shows Kim standing in front of trees with autumn foliage and a red-and-white banner saying, "Let's dedicate our lives to safeguarding our great leader and comrade Kim and his top revolutionary leaders."
The North's KCNA said in a dispatch monitored Wednesday in Seoul that Kim watched military training by the two units and expressed his satisfaction over their readiness to defeat any enemy invasions.
South Korea's Unification Ministry — which handles relations with North Korea — said it was still difficult to find Kim's health condition with still photos.
"There is a backdrop in the picture, with which we can guess the timing (of when it was taken) and (Kim) also is wearing a parka," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon told reporters. "But these are still photos again."
On Sunday, North Korea released undated photographs showing Kim smiling and looking healthy at what state TV said was a football game between two army teams.
The photos, however, failed to quell questions over his health, since none of them show Kim and scenes of a football match in the same frame.
Some South Korean media outlets also noted that the way Kim is holding his left arm appears unnatural in some of the Sunday images, suggesting it might be a sign he is suffering from paralysis as a result of his reported stroke.
Last month, North Korea released undated still photos showing Kim inspecting a military unit and looking healthy. The photos, however, raised questions as the lush green foliage on them appeared not to match the Korean peninsula's autumn season.
Speculation about Kim's health spiked after he missed a key celebration marking the country's 60th birthday on Sept. 9. He has not been seeing in public since mid-August.