SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea's ailing leader remained out of sight Monday, missing another key chance — Korea's Thanksgiving holiday — to make a public appearance that could have put to rest mounting speculation about his health.
Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke Aug. 14 and underwent emergency surgery performed with the help of five Chinese military doctors dispatched to Pyongyang at North Korea's request, Japan's Kyodo News agency reported from Beijing, citing unidentified Chinese officials.
Kim, 66, still has trouble moving his limbs and will need a long period of rest and rehabilitation to recover, Kyodo cited the officials as saying.
South Korean officials say they know Kim had a stroke but the Unification Ministry said Monday it could not confirm Kyodo's more detailed information. North Korea denies Kim is ill.
North Korea's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said Monday that Kim urged his people to work hard to reap a bountiful harvest, saying the country "should mobilize all available capability for the autumn harvest." The statement was published a day after Chuseok, or Thanksgiving, but the paper did not say when Kim made the remarks.
Chuseok — a major holiday celebrated on both sides of the border — would have provided Kim a chance to stamp out speculation about his health. Kim is notoriously reclusive but traditionally makes a public appearance sometime during Chuseok. This year, Chuseok fell on Sunday but was celebrated Saturday through Monday in South Korea.
Kim, believed to have diabetes and heart disease, has been in poor health in recent years and has not been seen in public in weeks. His failure to show up for the communist nation's 60th anniversary celebrations last week spurred speculation that his condition was serious.
Kim rarely has missed a military parade since becoming the military's commander in chief in 1991. The anniversary parade Sept. 9 was meant to showcase North Korea's military might — but ended up a muted affair in his absence.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency has said nothing about his health. Kim, revered as the "Dear Leader," rules the country of 23 million with absolute authority. Any official word that he is incapacitated could threaten the leadership he inherited from his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
Kim Jong Il, who became leader after his father died in 1994, has not named a successor. Analysts say none of his three sons is ready to take over as leader of the nuclear-armed nation, but South Korean government officials confirmed to South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper that all three are in Pyongyang.
Analysts say a tight circle of military advisers likely is managing the day to day affairs of the country. Last week, North Korea's five top government organs sent Kim congratulatory messages — a rare move seen as a clear oath of loyalty to the ailing leader.
"That showed Kim is clearly in control of North Korea" even as he recovers, Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea expert at South Korea's private Sejong Institute, said Monday.
In an editorial Monday, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper emphasized the importance of maintaining national unity and loyalty to Kim, calling unity the country's "mightiest weapon — the real missile."
Kim's calls in the newspaper Monday for North Koreans to work hard on the autumn harvest come as the World Food Program has appealed for $60 million in emergency funds to feed 6.3 million hungry people in the impoverished nation.
North Korea's economy collapsed in the mid-1990s, forcing the government to resort to aid from overseas to feed its people. Flooding in 2007 exacerbated the food shortage.