Have We Underestimated Kim Jong Un?

20 10 2017

Sputnik International - John Harrison(Sputnik International, Level Talk with John Harrison 13.10.2017) Dr. Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra joins the program and supplies a very different narrative from that of the mainstream media.

Dr. Petrov starts the program by stating that at the present time there seem to be no negotiations taking place. “Even when US Secretary of State Tillerson tried to enter into discussions with Jong Un, President Trump dismissed such attempts as being a waste of time. Attempts at dialogue finished in 2008 when the ‘6 Party Talks’ ended… I never thought that format was going to be a success because there were simply too many parties to come to a sensible agreement.”

The Obama administration did not wish to negotiate with N. Korea, Dr. Petrov says. “Obama refused to negotiate, preferring to wait until N. Korea falls to bits. There was nevertheless an attempt to negotiate, which led to an agreement, in February 2012 between Washington and Pyongyang. They basically agreed to improve bilateral relations, not only in terms of politician and diplomatic channels, but also in sports, academic, and humanitarian channels. But when N. Korea launched a rocket to celebrate the anniversary of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong Un’s late grandfather, this deal was torpedoed as in firing this missile, N. Korea violated a UN agreement….If the Americans had been more sensitive to the fact that this happened during the first year in power of Kim Jong Un, the present situation would be very different.”

The underlying narrative that the West holds that Kim Jong Un is some kind of psychotic dictator is discussed. As Dr. Petrov points out that there is a real problem, as nobody wants to understand Kim Jong Un’s points of view: “Nobody talks to Kim Jong Un. China doesn’t like him. He was invited to Moscow for the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. Kim Jong Un agreed initially but then refused after Obama and Merkel indicated that they would visit….Can you imagine the main Korean newspaper showing the Greatest of All Leaders standing next to other Heads of States. He has to constantly bolster his position through launches of ballistic missiles of different ranges. His attitude towards foreigners is that they should come to Pyongyang and kowtow and negotiate. But they refuse to do so.”

Understanding Kim Jong Un’s position, means understanding the legacy of colonialism in the region. Dr. Petrov explains: “N. Korea itself is a remnant of Cold War confrontation, and it is not just North and South Korea which is divided, but the whole of the region. There are no peace treaties, there are territorial disputes about international borders; some countries refuse to recognize each other, even though they have been represented in the UN for the last half century. What happened between North and South Korea is often recognized as a continuing war which started even before N. Korea attacked the South in 1950. Korea did not exist for 35 or 36 years when it was under Japanese colonial rule at the beginning of the 20th century; Japan was not only a problem for the Koreans but for the Chinese as well and there was an intention to unify [by Japan] the region against westerners. Now what North Koreas are doing is an attempt to replicate the Japanese Imperial Culture, when Japan was projecting itself as the leading force against western imperialism in the region. N. Korea is projecting itself as the bulwark of freedom and democracy against [what it perceives] western corrupt militaristic intentions to rule the world. We see that even Marxism-Leninism didn’t survive in N. Korea and was replaced by the so called ‘Juche’ self-reliance ideology which basically insists that N. Korea give up any attempt to integrate into the world economic system. N. Korea survived the collapse of the communist bloc, and did not suffer from the global, financial or Asian financial crises.”

As regards how the problem should be solved, Dr. Petrov suggests that we, the West should stop deceiving itself, and see that a country which has developed a nuclear weapon cannot undo its scientific progress. “Even if N. Korea were to dismantle its weapons it would be impossible to verify that N. Korea doesn’t have hidden away in the mountains somewhere a device or two, or a blueprint of a bomb with a couple of scientists who could recreate it within weeks. The only solution to this is what N. Korea is suggesting — a nuclear free world. This of course is impossible, but what the N. Korean leadership is suggesting is a comprehensive ban on nuclear warhead testing….They learnt the lesson of Libya; they understand that only with strong military deterrence they can ensure the survival of their regime. This is the most important thing for Kim Jong Un and his family and the 10,000 families around him who are loyal and supportive of the regime.”

I believe Kim Jong Un is a gift to President Trump, every time he launches something, people get distracted from what is going on in Washington DC….N. Korea and the US are locked into inter-dependence. The US needs a paper tiger. N. Korea is a small country which has nuclear weapons which cannot yet be mounted on rockets, but which definitely pose a threat to S. Korea, and other allies of the US, including Australia, who now feel the need to buy more sophisticated weapons to protect themselves against N. Korea, and the US is very willing to offer these very expensive and sophisticated anti-missile systems. ”

We appear to have underestimated Kim Jong Sun, probably we have never really tried. “The leaders of the countries that surround N. Korea all need Kim Jong Un for one reason or another; Kim Jong Un is keeping the show going. The region is paranoid, the region is really insecure, the region constantly lives in fear of war, and everyone understands that if there is a major shift in the balance of threat in N. Korea, it would open the gates to a tsunami of changes which may lead to a major shift in the balance of power, not only on the Korean peninsula but between China and Russia and the United States, which might start competing for geopolitical influence in the region.”

Listen to the full interview here…

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North Korea: Can South Korea’s Decapitation Unit take out Kim Jong-un?

4 10 2017

Silmido(ABC Radio’s Tell Me Straight’s Yasmin Parry and Will Ockenden, 30 Septemebr 2017) Imagine a squad of thousands of military soldiers flying helicopters and planes through the night towards North Korea with one job — to assassinate the leader, Kim Jong-un.

It sounds like the plot of a film, or a Twitter threat from US President Donald Trump, but it’s a legitimate South Korean defence strategy.

This month, the South Korean Defence Minister, Song Young-moo, announced a special forces squad, called the Decapitation Unit, would be reformed by the end of the year.

Reformed? Yep, this is the second iteration of a Kill Kim assassination squad.

A motley band of misfits were trained back in the 1970s to take out Mr Kim’s grandfather, but why try again when last time everything went horrifically wrong?

Miscreant hit squad

In 1971, the first Decapitation Unit was formed with the intention of marching north to slit the throat of Kim Il-sung, the then North Korean leader.

Like the plot of the Suicide Squad comic book series, the group was made up of former criminals and thugs plucked from the streets of Seoul.

The government gave them an irresistible offer — the promise of a new life and a clean slate if they completed their mission.

According to Leonid Petrov, a Korea expert from the Australian National University, the special unit was isolated for years on an island called Silmido.

The squad of misfits trained in gruelling conditions, some dying along the way.

But when the time grew close for them to complete their task, the South Korean government called the whole thing off.

“The whole mission was aborted because, well, they’re not professionals,” Dr Petrov said.

“They were still criminals, and they had no idea what’s going on in North Korea so they were doomed to failure.”

The government realised there was no way men from the South could infiltrate the North undetected.

“They already speak completely different dialects, they don’t understand each other, they don’t travel, they don’t visit each other,” Dr Petrov said.

“At that time the satellites wouldn’t provide them with maps and Google Earth didn’t exist at that time.

“They would immediately be identified, arrested, and potentially used in the counter-propaganda war against South Korea.”

Weapons who knew too much

But in their years of training, the men had become trained assassins, and the South Korean rulers feared they would turn rogue.

Dr Petrov said the South Korean guards on the island began slaughtering the agents one after another.

“They were shot and eliminated because they knew too much,” Dr Petrov said.

But when the South Korean guerrillas realised their fate, they rebelled.

The men turned on their guards and sailed a boat back to mainland South Korea.

They landed on the peninsula, hijacked a bus and drove towards the capital, but at one of the road blocks they were annihilated.

For many years, South Koreans knew nothing of the assassination plans and the ensuing chaos, which was severely embarrassing for the then South Korean dictatorship.

It was not until South Korea’s democratisation in the 1990s, and the release of the 2003 film Silmido, that people become widely aware of the story.

“Nobody knew that the South Koreans were doing exactly the same thing that North Koreans would do,” Dr Petrov said.

“But they’re Koreans — they’re brothers and sisters — they live in the constant fear of the resumption of the hostilities and it’s a slow motion civil war.”

Getting the gang back together

Despite everything that went wrong with the Decapitation Unit in the 1970s, the South Korean Government now plans to recreate it.

The South Korean Defence Minister said 2,000 to 4,000 soldiers would be assembled by year’s end and the military was already “retooling” helicopters and transport planes to penetrate North Korean airspace at night.

It sounds like a daring plan, but Dr Petrov said it was nothing but propaganda.

“Everyone in South Korea understands that the South Koreans cannot do much or anything successful in terms of deposing or dethroning the regime of Kim Jong-un, simply because they don’t know how it works. It’s a black box,” he said.

“When South Korean parliamentarians were asked why on Earth they decided to come up with this plan, which didn’t work before, they simply said it was the intention to scare the North Korean regime, because North Koreans have nuclear weapons that South Koreans don’t.”

One of the ways South Korea can respond is with a propaganda campaign, setting up a Decapitation Unit so the North Korean leadership would have to live in constant fear.

Assassination doomed to fail

According to Dr Petrov, there are numerous reasons a hit on Mr Kim by the South Koreans would be impossible.

“It is a fantasy, it’s science fiction. Mission impossible,” he said.

He said the first problem was very few people knew where the North Korean leader was at any given moment.

“Kim Jong-un lives like his father and his grandfather — underground in numerous palaces which are linked by underground tunnel highways.

“He periodically pops up on launching pads to oversee the rockets, have a photo session, meet with peasants and workers and then disappear again,” Dr Petrov said.

Second, the North Korean regime is a “perfect dictatorship”, with many layers of defence.

“The system in North Korea is designed to protect the leadership in such a way that even their own security apparatus people don’t know where the leader is,” Dr Petrov said.

“When they drive the car with high-ranking leaders, there’s a system of block posts that stop the car and change the driver, so that every driver doesn’t know where the journey is going to stop.”

The third reason is the South Korean army is unprepared to take on such a task.

“The South Korean army counts 675,000 people, of which most are conscripts, which means they’re mama’s boys, university students who are not prepared to sacrifice their life for some ideological conflict which has been going on in Korea for decades,” Dr Petrov said.

Special units do exist and are well trained, but it is unlikely they would be effective on enemy territory given they know little about the security infrastructure underground, he said.

“Maybe a dozen of highly trained spies can cross the border, can infiltrate, but again it will be some comical situations when they wouldn’t know the reality of North Korean life. They will be immediately identified, embarrassed,” Dr Petrov said.

“They’re like aliens visiting the Earth. Hello Earthlings!”

With an attempt on Mr Kim’s life unlikely, the leader’s lifestyle is likely to kill him first, Dr Petrov said.

“Kim Jong-un is more likely to die of an overdose of expensive Cognac or cheese or obesity or high blood pressure, but not from a South Korean bullet,” he said.

You can listed to the original ABC Radio podcast of this interview here…





North Korea’s 70th anniversary parade suggests little change in policy

11 10 2015

KJU-Oct-10-2015-parade(NKnews.com 10.10.2015) Parade demonstrates party commitment to nation’s defense, shows off some newer equipment.

North Korea stands ready to fight any war with the United States and its armed forces are now so strong that the country has become a global military power, leader Kim Jong Un said at major anniversary event on Saturday.

But despite the strident tone of his speech, North Korea refrained from carrying out anticipated missile tests to coincide with the event, held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), or a satellite launch that many observers had expected earlier in the year.

“Our revolutionary forces are capable of dealing with any kind of war being waged by the U.S.,” Kim said during a 25-minute address prior to the military parade.

“Through the line of Songun (military-first) politics, our Korean People’s Army has become the strongest revolutionary force and our country has become an impenetrable fortress and a global military power,” he continued.

MILITARY PARADE

Following Kim’s speech a widely anticipated military parade kicked off, featuring formations of soldiers in various KPA uniforms – including historic versions – among the first to pass by the reviewing stand in Kim Il Sung Square.

Being a commemorative event, the approximately two hour parade featured old equipment as well as new, including the T-34 tank, a model which was used in the Korean War.

At various points during the parade, light aircraft flew above Kim Il Sung Square in formations, including CJ-6s depicting emblem of the WPK and An-2s depicting the number 70.

Among the artillery in the parade were self-propelled multiple rocket launchers (MRL) of various calibers including 107mm MRLs, 122mm MRLs, 240mm MRLs, and the previously unseen (though known to exist due to test firings) 300mm MRLs.

Other self-propelled field artillery included 122mm howitzers, 152mm gun-howitzers, and 170mm Koksan guns.

The parade featured several armored personnel carriers such as the BTR-60 and M-2010 and tanks such as the Type-59, Chonma-ho, and Pokpung-ho. Notably, there was a lack of any towed artillery in the parade, perhaps intentionally so in order to present an image of a more mobile and rapidly deployable force.

The only unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, a.k.a “drone”) featured in the parade was a previously seen, indigenously produced UAV believed to be based on the American MQM-107. The designation of this UAV, which is mounted on ZIL-130 trucks, is unknown.

Following the UAVs were Kumsong-1 (a.k.a. KN-01) surface-to-ship missiles.

Three different surface-to-air missiles (SAM) were featured in the parade including the S-125 (NATO reporting name SA-3) and S-200 (NATO reporting name SA-5) and the KN-06, a North Korean version of the Russian S-300.

The parade also featured ballistic missiles such as the Scud (Hwasong-5/6), the Rodong-A, the Rodong-B (BM-25 Musudan), and what appears to be a new version of the KN-08 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM).

Following the missiles, the parade ended with a military band marching in formation to spell out the word “victory” (seungri) and Su-25 ground attack aircraft flying overhead with colored smoke trails.

CHINESE THAW?

The attendance of China’s No. 5 leader Liu Yunshan at the parade further suggested a thawing of relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, him being the most senior Chinese visitor to Pyongyang since Kim came to power.

Video of the parade on Saturday showed Kim and Liu standing shoulder to shoulder on a viewing platform overlooking Kim Il Sung square, frequently talking and laughing among themselves.

Chinese state media said Liu brought Kim a message on Friday from President Xi Jinping, extending congratulations and best wishes from Beijing to Pyongyang to commemorate the 70th anniversary.

Notably, Kim Jong Un did not mention North Korea’s signature “Byungjin” policy of simultaneously pursuing economic and nuclear weapons development, something some analysts suggested Saturday could be in respect of Liu’s presence. China is opposed to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The prime-position presence of Liu at the event stood in stark contrast to the distant positioning of a North Korean delegation at recent Victory Day anniversary celebrations in Beijing.

At that September 3 event, which Kim Jong Un did not attend, DPRK envoy Choe Ryong Hae stood watching the parade over 40 people away from President Xi. South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye stood adjacent to Xi, reflecting the increasingly close ties between the two countries.

Dr. Leonid Petrov, a North Korea researcher at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, told NK News the parade emphasized the regime’s rule and military policy, rather than any hopes of changing inter-Korean relations which were evident in another recent event.

CEREMONY & SYMBOLISM

This parade appears to have emphasized not only the current state of the DPRK’s military technical capability, showcasing much of its newer equipment, but also the role of the party in fighting for and defending the country – both historically and presently – and the party’s leadership in military affairs.

“KJU’s speech and today’s military parade were to convince people inside and outside of the DPRK that after the 70 years of dictatorship and militarism nothing is going to change,” Petrov told NK News.

“The country will remain an ‘impenetrable fortress’ and its perpetual conflict with ‘American imperialists’ will continue,” said Petrov, paraphrasing Kim. “It would have been much more memorable if KJU had repeated what he had apparently told the visiting Chinese envoy, Liu Yunshan: namely, that he wants to improve relations with South Korea.”





Security Implications of Kim Jong Un’s Leadership Consolidation for Korea and Beyond

1 12 2014

LP interview with AIIA ACT_2014.05.05The public lecture, “Security Implications of Kim Jong Un’s Leadership Consolidation for Korea and Beyond”, was given at Australian Institute of International Affairs in Canberra on 05 May 2014.

Here the short interview with Dr. Leonid Petrov before the lecture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xALSH5O0t4E





Kim Yo-Jong is the latest family member rising to power in North Korea

1 12 2014

Kim Yo-Jong(News.com.au November 29, 2014) THERE’s a new Kim climbing the ranks in North Korea — and this time, it’s a woman. Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-Jong, has been promoted to what is effectively a second-in-command position to the country’s notorious dictator. She has been increasingly visible in recent years, and now the ambitious young woman is firmly situated in the highest echelons of the ruling Workers’ Party. Yesterday, the North’s official KCNA news agency listed her as a “vice department director” in the central committee.

Believed to be 26 years old, Kim Yo-Jong first made her first public appearance in 2011 at the funeral of her father and longtime ruler Kim Jong-Il. When Kim Jong-un was sick recently, she is thought to have been acting as leader behind the scenes, according to Dr Leonid Petrov, from the ANU School of History and Culture.

“She is powerful and ambitious,” Dr Petrov told news.com.au. “She’s participated in family gatherings, ordering food and drink for guests before the party starts. “Last month, when Kim Jong-un disappeared from view to undergo medical treatment, there were reports that she was acting as leader.”

Now the Supreme Leader has a problem. He is considered young, at just 31 years old, and “needs to uplift his image”, Dr Leonid explains. He has already changed his hairstyle and started using a walking stick to make himself appear older to generate more respect. His health is poor — he has diabetes and high blood pressure — and he isn’t sure who he can trust.

Enter Kim Yo-Jong. As a family member, she will not betray him. She will show loyalty and will not try to take power while he is alive. But should he die, whether of natural causes or at the hands of his many enemies, she could continue the reign of the ruling family.

“She has a thirst for power,” said Dr Leonid. She has begun accompanying her brother to political events and on his “field guidance trips”.

Analysts suggest she is either in the powerful organisational department handling personnel changes or a propaganda unit. Kim Jong Il was also seen as relying on his own sister during his 17-year rule.

While women, especially young ones, would not normally come to power in Korea, things are changing, culturally and politically.

South Korea now has a female president, which no one would have expected in the past, who again was the daughter of a leader. North Korean observers have speculated that Kim Yo-Jong is being groomed to playing a similar leadership supporting role to her powerful aunt, Kim Kyong-Hui.

Kim Jong-un has removed many members of the old guard, with Kim Kyong-Hui, 68, largely disappearing from public view after her husband Jang Song-Thaek was executed last December for charges including treason.

Just as Kim Jong-un entered the public eye in 2009, so Kim Yo-Jong has taken a central role. She is a safety precaution for her brother, and she could become the perfect dictator to carry on the dynasty.





Kim Jong Un’s absence: coup or cooped up?

13 10 2014

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????(By Belinda Cranston, ANU, 10 OCT 2014) Why hasn’t Kim Jong Un been seen for 37 days? All sorts of conspiracy theories abound. Are ankle problems the reason the North Korean leader is lying low, as reported by the hermit kingdom’s officials? Or is something more sinister at stake, like a coup?

It was hoped that all would be revealed on Friday, when celebrations marking the 69th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s ruling party begin in Pyongyang.

The occasion would normally see the supreme leader on the podium of Kim Il-Sung Square, greeting a parade of workers and peasants passing by. But the North Korean leader has apparently missed this key political event.

Speaking before the event, North Korea expert Dr Leonid Petrov, from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, said, “it will probably look more suspicious than ever if he doesn’t appear.”

Footage of Kim in North Korean media a couple of months ago showed the North Korean dictator limping.

At an occasion to mark the 61st anniversary of the end of the Korean War, on 27 July, he was unusually subdued, fuelling rumours he had suffered a stroke.

“If he did survive a minor stroke, maybe his left side is a bit affected by that,” Petrov said.

Kim is also said to have suffered diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

When he failed to show on 9 September for National Day commemorations, the rumour mill went into overdrive.

If an injury required a major operation, it was possible Kim was recovering in a wheel chair, a look he would not want to sport for fear of being perceived as weak, Petrov suggested.

It is also possible Kim is afraid of assassination. Late last year he reportedly arranged for his uncle’s execution, because he feared he was disloyal to the North Korean regime.

This year’s release of the American film, The Interview, a comedy about journalists on an undercover mission to assassinate Kim, has further fuelled rumours Kim fears for his life.

Petrov isn’t convinced, noting Kim’s many public appearances in the first part of 2014.

In early January, visiting former-US basketball star Dennis Rodman sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Kim, publicly cementing the unusual friendship between the two.

But the North Korean leader didn’t show during Rodman’s third visit to North Korea.

“That shows that he is getting a bit cautious about his meetings and public appearances,” Petrov added.

Without Kim or his family in power, the North Korean regime would probably struggle.

“The system would need to find some sort of figure head to replace him,” Petrov said.

His sister Kim Yo-jong is rumoured to be now running the show, but Petrov isn’t convinced she is, given North Korea’s perception of women.

“Women are not supposed to occupy the central position in power politics,” he said.

What of other rumours, like Kim being under house arrest or even dead?

Until Kim makes an appearance soon, Petrov believes the most likely scenario is that the North Korean dictator is unwell.

“Maybe incapacitated. Yes, it is possible, he may have had a stroke and is in bad shape.”

This article is from the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific





Kim Jong Un, out of sight for 37 days, is a no-show at ceremony

11 10 2014

North Koreans on 10.10.2014 (By STEVEN BOROWIEC, Seoul, 10 October 2014) Speculation over the health and whereabouts of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un grew Friday after he apparently did not attend ceremonies marking an important national holiday. The young head of the reclusive country has not appeared in public since he was seen at a concert Sept. 3.

Oct. 10 is the anniversary of the ruling North Korean Workers’ Party, and in his first two years in power, Kim marked the occasion by making midnight visits to the mausoleum in the capital, Pyongyang, where the bodies of his father and grandfather, both former leaders, are kept in state.

But in its reports on the holiday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency did not make any mention of Kim, believed to be 31, participating in events. He also missed a celebration for Foundation Day on Sept. 9, another important holiday on the North Korean calendar.

“Today was a crucial day for him to return. More and more questions are mounting and his absence inevitably leads to uncertainty about who’s leading the country,” said Leonid Petrov, a researcher in Korean studies at Australian National University.

Kim is overweight and has become noticeably heavier since he came to power in December 2011. He is a smoker and reputedly has tastes for liquor and high-calorie food.

Earlier this year, he was filmed walking with a noticeable limp at a state function, and in a rare admission of vulnerability, North Korea’s official media reported in late September that he was struggling with unspecified physical “discomfort.”

On Friday, an unnamed source told Reuters that a leg injury was keeping Kim out of public view. The source said Kim pulled a tendon after joining a military drill he had been inspecting.

On Oct. 4, a delegation of senior North Korean figures, believed to be the most powerful officials in the country after Kim, made an unexpected visit to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. They borrowed Kim’s plane for the trip, and Kim’s regards were reportedly conveyed to South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Analysts have said that in North Korea’s totalitarian system, such a trip could not have gone ahead without the top leader’s approval.

Though Kim is young and far less experienced than the men of his father’s generation who make up the government’s top ranks, he has the unmatchable legitimacy of being part of the ruling Kim bloodline as grandson to founding leader Kim Il Sung.

His uncle by marriage, Jang Song-thaek, was widely considered North Korea’s second most powerful figure and a possible threat to Kim’s control, until Jang was suddenly purged and executed last year. Jang’s ouster was carried out in an unusually visible manner, with him being handcuffed and dragged out of a large meeting, possibly as an implicit warning to anyone else in North Korea with ambitions of building power to challenge Kim’s control of the country.

Though Kim’s prolonged absence has spurred rumors of a power struggle in Pyongyang, there is no clear sign that a serious challenge to his rule has emerged. On Friday, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, its body for relations with the North, said in a briefing that, according to the South Korean government’s intelligence, Kim’s rule has not been disrupted.

“There’s no sign of any political upheaval in Pyongyang. Just the opposite, all the evidence shows that things are going along normally,” said John Delury, a North Korea watcher at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Still, the extended absence is out of character for Kim, who has been a highly visible leader whose moves are usually closely reported in the North Korean state media. “This is very unusual for Kim Jong Un, as he’s been this hyperactive young leader who tries to show that he’s involved in everything that’s going on,” said Adam Cathcart, a lecturer of East Asian history at the University of Leeds.

Though Kim’s absence is unusual for him, it’s not unheard of in the history of North Korea’s ruling dynasty. His father, Kim Jong Il, who died in late 2011, regularly did not appear in public for months at a time, often due to his deteriorating health.

Also Friday, South Korea’s military announced that North Korea fired machine guns at activists in South Korea who were releasing balloons filled with propaganda leaflets over the border.

A source in the South Korean military, speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity, said no casualties or damage occurred, and that the South did not return fire but fired warning shots and broadcast a message over loudspeakers imploring the North to refrain from firing.

The balloons are usually filled with leaflets critical of the North Korean government, as well as socks and chocolate snacks. Pyongyang routinely objects to such criticism, and has recently called on the South Korean government to take action to prevent the activists, often North Korean refugees, from sending the balloons. Seoul has responded that it cannot prevent the release of the leaflets because they represent free speech.