SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has made his first public appearance since his country test-launched a barrage of missiles more than a month ago, official media reported Sunday.
Kim visited a farm run by an army unit and was accompanied by top generals, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. As usual with such reports, the exact time or location of the trip were not given.
Kim's last reported public appearance was July 4, a day before Pyongyang launched seven missiles, including a new long-range model believed capable of reaching the U.S. that failed shortly after takeoff. The move violated the country's self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile launches.
The launches prompted the U.N. Security Council to unanimously pass a resolution sanctioning the North, which Pyongyang has rejected as an infringement on its sovereign right to conduct missile launches.
Since North Korea test-launched the shorter-range Taepodong-1 rocket over Japan in 1998, Pyonyang's missile program has been regarded as a major security issue in Northeast Asia, adding to concerns about the hardline regime's pursuit of nuclear bombs.
Kim's absence from public view had fueled speculation of a possible crisis in the country in the wake of the missile tests and international reaction.
However, Kim has dropped from sight before for longer periods of time: In 2003, he was not reported to have ventured out for seven weeks after the country quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the United States moved toward invading Iraq.
In the latest visit, Kim toured a rabbit and goat farm producing food for the military — the focus of his "songun", or "military-first," policy that gives soldiers first priority for the country's scarce resources.
"As our country has many mountains, it is possible to raise goats and rabbits and other grass-eating animals in every part of it," Kim said, according to KCNA.
As many as 2 million people are believed to have died in famine caused by natural disasters and mismanagement in impoverished country during the 1990s. Floods that struck the country in mid-July have raised concerns about new threats to its food supply, and left a reported 844 dead and missing.