Kim Jong-il 'Collapsed Last Thursday'

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il collapsed on Dec. 15, two days before North Korea says he died, according to intelligence the South Korean government has received from Japan. The collapse was grave enough for top North Korean officials to convene an emergency meeting, though whether he died then or later is not known.

Seoul apparently received the information from Japan after his death was announced at noon on Monday.

A source on Thursday said a Japanese official attended an international seminar in Pyongyang hosted by North Korea's Asia Pacific Peace Committee, and on the morning on Dec. 15, he met with the North's nominal No. 2 official Kim Yong-nam. Everything went as scheduled, but Won Tong-yon, the deputy director of the United Front Department and vice chairman of the Asia Pacific Peace Committee, arrived 40 minutes late to the dinner scheduled to start at 7 p.m., looking distressed and telling the guests that he had to attend an emergency meeting.

Won then went to Sunan Airport in Pyongyang on Friday morning to see off the guests, who were scheduled to board a 7:30 a.m. flight for Beijing. He was apparently enraged by the sight of a Christmas tree in the airport lobby and ordered airport officials to dismantle it, telling them, "This is no time to light this up."

"It appears that Kim Jong-il suffered a serious health problem on Thursday afternoon, prompting an emergency among the North’s top officials, but his condition improved a little, causing Won to come to the dinner late," the source said. "Maybe the reason he got angry at the airport on Friday morning was that Kim Jong-il had died."

That would square with an account by Liberty Forward Party lawmaker Park Sun-young, who claimed intelligence suggests that Kim did not die aboard his train on Saturday but around 1:30 a.m. on Friday at a villa around 40 km from his home in Pyongyang.

The summer villa has hospital facilities and is connected by underground tunnel to Kim's official residence, according to Park. Japan's Asahi TV reported that Kim died near the villa at around 1 a.m. on Saturday and asked his bodyguard for some water before he died.

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 23, 2011 09:49 KST