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Asia-Pacific
All eyes on N Korea 'announcement'
South Korea says no signs of reported "major announcement" from across the border.
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2008 05:51 GMT

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has not been seen in public for months [EPA]

South Korean officials say they have detected no signs of unusual activity in North Korea despite media reports that the North may make a major announcement, possibly related to the well-being of its leader, Kim Jong-il.

At the weekend reports in Japanese newspapers cited sources as saying Pyongyang had ordered its diplomats abroad to be on standby and planned to ban foreigners from entering the country ahead of an "important announcement" on Monday.

But South Korean officials on Monday said intelligence monitoring indicated nothing out of the ordinary and that it was business as usual across the border.

The weekend news reports had fuelled speculation over the health of Kim Jong-il, the reclusive North Korean leader, who has not been seen in public since August.

Speaking at a news briefing on Monday, Kim Ho-nyeon, a spokesman for South Korea's unification ministry, said they had "nothing to confirm" regarding the North Korean leader's health.

He added: "There are no unusual signs regarding civilian exchanges between the South and the North. They are going on as scheduled."

"All of the North's domestic broadcasts, its international events and domestic events are being conducted normally," he said.

South Korean intelligence officials suspect Kim, 66, may have suffered a stroke and undergone brain surgery but Pyongyang has denied there is anything wrong with him.

While speculation has centred on a North Korean announcement related to the health of its leader, some analysts have said another possiblity could be related to relations between North and South Korea.

Last week, North Korea threatened to cut all ties with the South, a major source of food and cash aid, in protest at the tough policies of the conservative president, Lee Myung-bak.

An escalation in tensions between the two Koreas could cause problems for the South by making it more expensive for South Korean companies to raise funds internationally at a time when the economy is already facing major troubles.

Source:
Agencies
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