Seoul: South Korea declined any official comment Friday on growing speculation over the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un who has not been seen in public for more than three weeks.
The South`s permanently primed North Korea rumour mill has been feeding off Kim`s extended absence, and stepped up a gear when he failed to attend a session of parliament on Thursday.
State television coverage of Kim in July had shown the young leader walking with a pronounced limp, and speculation over the reason for his latest no-show has ranged from an attack of gout to an injury he may have picked up while providing "guidance" to North Korean athletes competing in the ongoing Asian Games.
In a press briefing Friday, the South`s Unification Ministry refused to add any new theories to the mix.
"North Korea has not made any official announcement... so we don`t have anything to comment on", a ministry spokeswoman said.
"We are watching with various possibilities in mind, including the rumours about health problems," she added.
The North`s Supreme People`s Assembly, or parliament, only meets once or twice a year to rubber-stamp budgets or other decisions made by the ruling party.
It has little real power and there is no onus on Kim to attend when it is convened, although Friday`s session was the first he has missed since coming to power three year ago.
Kim, who is believed to be 30 or 31, was last seen attending a musical concert in Pyongyang with his wife, Ri Sol-Ju, on September 3.
It is by no means unprecedented for a North Korean leader to drop out of the public eye for a while, but it is more noticeable with Kim who has maintained a particularly pervasive media presence since assuming power on the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in 2011.
Much has been made of the state TV footage that showed him limping at a national memorial meeting in July to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of his grandfather and North Korea`s founder Kim Il-Sung.
The South`s Yonhap news agency on Friday quoted an unidentified source saying Kim was suffering from gout, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Another source told the agency that a North Korean medical team had visited Germany and Switzerland for consultations on Kim`s health issues.
Hong Hyun-Ik, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute think-tank in Seoul, warned against reading too much into Kim`s absence.
"Curiosity about Kim Jong-Un`s well-being tends to be overblown in the South," Hong said.
"It`s quite possible that he`s just tired and resting up," Hong said, noting that Kim had undertaken a hectic schedule, including trips to outlying military outposts, during the summer months.
Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, stressed that Kim`s name was not entirely absent from the report published by the North`s official KCNA news agency on the parliamentary session.
The KCNA despatch said the assembly had elected three people to the North`s powerful National Defence Commission (NDC) "at the proposal of Marshal Kim Jong-Un".
One of those elected was Kim confidante Hwang Pyong-So, who was promoted to NDC vice chairman.
"Even if he`s not in great shape, there appears to be little change in Kim`s grip on power," Yang said.