North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has ordered the demolition and rebuilding of a theater that was in perfect condition, adding to suspicions that his judgment is becoming severely impaired as a result of a stroke in 2008. Citing North Korean sources, Radio Free Asia reported on Monday that a national theater in Pyongyang was demolished in May and is being reconstructed. People there "seem to wonder why a building that was just renovated in 2003 is being rebuilt."
The theater was torn down on May 9 just after Kim watched a play there, making his first public appearance since his visit to China early that month. Kim had apparently watched another performance of the same play there on April 27 and after his second visit had enough and ordered it rebuilt.
"It's strange enough to watch the same play twice in less than two weeks, but it's even more absurd to order the reconstruction of a building that was renovated just seven years ago," said a South Korean intelligence official. "It appears that the aftereffects of Kim Jong-il's stroke are more serious than we thought."
National Intelligence Service chief Won Sei-hoon told a closed-door National Assembly committee meeting last month that Kim is showing signs of memory loss and talking nonsense during his field inspections. But other experts advise caution. "North Korea has gauged the level of South Korea's intelligence gathering abilities by monitoring media reports from the South and other countries about Kim Jong-il's health," said Sogang University Professor Kim Young-soo. "We need to be more discerning even when it comes to signs pointing to dementia."