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[News Focus] NK-born lawmakers-elect in hot water after Kim Jong-un’s return

United Future Party lawmaker-elect Thae Gu-min speaks at the National Assembly on April 28. (Yonhap)
United Future Party lawmaker-elect Thae Gu-min speaks at the National Assembly on April 28. (Yonhap)

Two North Korea-born lawmakers-elect in South Korea are in hot water after the North’s leader Kim Jong-un resurfaced in the public eye Saturday, contrary to their previous comments.

On Monday, Thae Gu-min apologized for his inaccurate assessment of Kim’s health, two days after North Korean media released images of the leader appearing healthy.

Thae, along with fellow North Korea-born lawmaker-elect Ji Sung-ho, claimed that Kim was either dead or in serious condition, citing unnamed sources when speculations arose as to Kim’s prolonged absence from the public eye.

Thae, a lawmaker-elect of the United Future Party, claimed that Kim Jong-un’s condition is likely to be serious enough to prevent him from walking. Ji, who won a proportional representative seat with the affiliated Future Korea Party, claimed he was “99 percent certain” of Kim Jong-un’s death.

Although Thae had maintained that the North Korean leader may have had health issues despite North Korean media reports, he apologized in a statement Monday, saying he made a misjudgment and that he feels the weight of his words.

Throughout Kim Jong-un’s absence from public events, Cheong Wa Dae refuted all related reports. On Sunday, a high-level official said that Seoul’s intelligence suggested the North Korean leader did not receive any kind of medical treatment. Cheong Wa Dae has also criticized the media, with spokesman Kang Min-seok saying he hoped that the recent developments show the local media to trust authorities over unverified sources.

Ji and Thae’s claims have been met with heavy criticism from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

“The two lawmakers-elect’s irresponsible claims have caused confusion and concerns about national security,” Rep. Seol Hoon, a member of the Democratic Party’s supreme council, said Monday.

Seol went on to say that Thae and Ji must issue apologies, and that the United Future Party should penalize the two if no apologies are issued.

Earlier in the day, the ruling Democratic Party’s Rep. Kim Boo-kyum urged the United Future Party to exclude Ji and Thae from the parliamentary National Defense Committee and Intelligence Committee, saying their comments have proven that they are unfit for the two committees.

“The two of you would have an idea about the changes in our military and government’s readiness if there are changes to the North Korean leader’s person. It is not a light matter,” Kim wrote in a Facebook message addressed to Thae and Ji.

Describing their actions as against the oath of National Assembly members, which states that lawmakers must put the national interest first and work for the peaceful unification of the Koreas, Kim urged the two to refrain from spreading misinformation based on “false information and personal wishes.”

The two lawmakers-elect’s comments have also raised criticism from within the United Future Party as well.

Speaking in a radio interview Monday, Rep. Kim Se-yeon described the comments as being “too far,” adding that the comments warrant public apologies.

Conservative news outlets, however, appear unwilling to accept that Kim has no serious health issues, continuing to raise speculations.

Citing medical experts, the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo on Monday claimed that a new scar on the underside of Kim’s right forearm appears to be from cardiac catheterization. The daily also claimed that Kim’s face and wrists appeared more bloated in the recently released images, and that Kim appeared to drag his left leg, to back up its claims that the North Korean leader is experiencing health issues.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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