Did Kim Jong-il Really Die on a Train?

According to the official account, Kim Jong-il died at 8:30 on Saturday morning from a heart attack on a running train, but North Korea experts here say there are several aspects of the story that do not add up. Some believe the North Korean regime for obscure reasons gave a false time and place.

◆ Freezing Weather

A military officer here said the temperature in Pyongyang the morning Kim died was -12 degrees Celsius. Cold weather is bad for patients with a weak heart, so Kim's doctors would have discouraged him from going outdoors.

Moreover, Kim is famous for his nocturnal lifestyle and normally gets up around noon. Therefore it seems unlikely he was on a train that freezing morning. National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei-hoon told the National Assembly on Tuesday there were no signs that Kim's special armored train ever moved out of the station over the weekend.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il gets on his armored train in Amur Oblast, Russia in August (file photo). North Korean leader Kim Jong-il gets on his armored train in Amur Oblast, Russia in August (file photo).

◆ Witnesses

South Korean intelligence believes that only very few top officials around Kim knew of his death. But on his so-called on-the-spot guidance tours Kim was always accompanied by hundreds of people including medical staff and bodyguards. Four of the train's 20 carriages are a mobile hospital. One source on North Korea said "If Kim died on the train, all medical staff must have been mobilized, and it would have created quite a stir stopping the train. There must be hundreds of people who witnessed it. Would it have been possible to keep this secret for over 50 hours?"

In addition, another train with bodyguards usually went ahead of Kim's wherever he went to check the safety of railroad.

◆ Death at Home

Kim's last public appearance, according to the North Korean media, was at a large supermarket in Pyongyang on Thursday. If he did not leave Pyongyang immediately afterwards, he must have been resting in his residence or office in Pyongyang. Because Kim made nine public appearances this month alone, he would have been tired. "It may be that his aides did not know of Kim's heart attack or found out too late because he would have been sleeping in his bedroom," a source said.

◆ Why the Need for Fabrications?

One senior South Korean official said, "Death on the train is possibly the best story that the North Korean regime can use to promote Kim as a hardworking leader who worked for the people until the moment he died. North Koreans would feel there's a huge difference between an easy and peaceful death in his bed and death at work far from home."

A North Korean defector said, "Unlike when Kim Il-sung died, North Koreans have virtually no respect for Kim Jong-il. The regime must have felt the need to make his death look better and find a way to glorify him." But a researcher at a state-run think tank said, "It's a great risk to the credibility of the regime if it’s later revealed that Kim died in his bed. They would think twice about lying about it."

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 21, 2011 13:55 KST