Suspicion of North Korea runs deep in South Korea, so it wasn’t a surprise that within hours of the announcement of Kim Jong-il’s death Monday, some South Korean newspapers were asking if the Dear Leader had been murdered.
While North Korea’s Central News Agency reported Monday that Mr. Kim died of a heart attack last Saturday on a train while heading to an unidentified destination, Seoul’s Korea Times newspaper ran a headline, “Suspicions arise over cause of death”.
According to the newspaper, North Korean defectors doubt Pyongyang’s state-controlled media reports of Mr. Kim’s death. They cautiously suggested the dictator may have been murdered.
A political scientist, An Chan-il, was quoted as saying Mr. Kim may have been killed by elements within the North Korean government who disagreed with his policies.
“After his third son Jung-un was named for a dynastic leadership succession, many military officers, especially those in their 50s, were dismissed,” Mr. An told the Korea Times. “I think these people could have held deep resentment about Kim and North Korea’s next leader.
“A rumor is circulating that earlier a high-ranking North Korean official was shot dead,” he said. “This has yet to be confirmed, but such talk is evidence that discontent was brewing among some people in the North.”
Mr. An speculated hardline elements in the military may have also resented recent policy changes introduced by Mr. Kim.
“As their vested interests were hurt due to Kim Jong-il, I would not rule out the possibility that some military officers, who believed their clout and influence had been damaged, could have played a role in his death,” he said.
The newspaper said Chun Yo-ok, a member of South Korea’s National Assembly from the ruling Grand National Party also raised the possibility Mr. Kim might have been killed as a result of a power struggle.
Several years ago, a Japanese professor wrote a book arguing that Kim Jong-il died in 2003 and had been represented by body doubles ever since.
The latest conspiracy theories gained life from the fact that just hours before officials announced Mr. Kim’s death, U.S. officials were leaking news that they had negotiated a breakthrough deal to have North Korea suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for a resumption of food aid from Washington.