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Gone rogue: Whatever the truth about Kim Jong-un rumours, nothing would surprise Chris about North Korea

Until his apparent return to duty on Friday, Kim Jong-un's unexplained withdrawal from public life had fuelled wild rumours about the tyrant. Coleraine man Chris Kelly spent three years working in North Korea and says whatever the truth, nothing would surprise him in a country...

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Chris during his travels in North Korea

Chris during his travels in North Korea

Chris during his travels in North Korea

DEAD, alive or chilling at his secret beachside palace - Kim Jong-un will be loving the western media speculation about him.

The recent rumours about the North Korean dictator's death - Western governments are yet to verify his apparent return to duty on Friday - are just the latest in the hall of mirrors-style unpredictability the regime loves conjuring up.

That's according to Coleraine man Chris Kelly who guided tours through the so-called Hermit Kingdom for three years.

Chris told Sunday Life: "Once those kind of stories come out it would be very easy for them to put him out in public but they chose not to do it because, ultimately, he's a dictator and probably enjoys that attention.

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Kim Jong Un cuts a tape, watched by his sister Kim Yo Jong, during his visit to a fertiliser factory (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Kim Jong Un cuts a tape, watched by his sister Kim Yo Jong, during his visit to a fertiliser factory (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

AP

Kim Jong Un cuts a tape, watched by his sister Kim Yo Jong, during his visit to a fertiliser factory (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

"Even if there is nothing wrong with him they probably quite enjoy the limelight."

Speculation about the health of the "supreme leader" was sparked by an uncharacteristic absence from state media during celebrations to mark the birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, on April 15.

But South Korean officials believed he was at a luxury seaside bolthole before he apparently reappeared at a ribbon cutting ceremony at fertiliser factory on Friday.

It was there that Kim hosted US basketball star Dennis Rodman for a boozy weekend in 2013, which he likened to "Hawaii or Ibiza".

The despot was also reported to have undergone a heart operation, a likely explanation for an extended absence given his weight, reported diabetes diagnosis and heavy smoking.

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People watch a TV showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

People watch a TV showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

AP/PA Images

People watch a TV showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

"For a country with a very low population size, 25 million, and a very low GDP its clout with the world's media is huge," said Chris.

"Based on the personality it takes to do that job and be that leader, he probably does revel in the attention. They also enjoy it because no one can figure out what's going on inside that country and North Koreans have managed to develop such a forcefield that false stories constantly come out of the country."

Chris (33) worked for Young Pioneer Tours guiding adventurous tourists around the sites of the most secretive country on Earth between 2013 and 2016.

He was also friendly with Michael Spavor, the Canadian consultant who managed to foster a relatively close relationship with the dictator.

"Michael got on very well with Kim Jong-un, he says that in terms of personal conversation, he is very up with the west and speaks a bit of English," he recalled.

Kim, aged 36, knows the west having been schooled in Switzerland before returning home to be groomed to succeed his father, Kim Jong-il, and become the third living God-style leader of the nation.

That happened in 2011 when his father died at the age of 70 after ruling for 16 years as 'Supreme Leader'.

"He is the spitting image of Kim Il-sung, the first leader of the country, and whenever I talked to people, you could see the difference in how they talked about Kim Il-sung and his successor, Kim Jong-il," explained Chris.

"The difference was a huge and genuine degree of reverence, that is to do with the fact that Kim Il-sung fought against the Japanese and the Americans.

"After the Korean War, North Korea was very prosperous because at that time Communism was strong, the Soviet Union was strong, and they gave so much money to North Korea.

"People talk of those times as very happy and prosperous times. When Kim Jong-il (right) took over the famine started in the 90s and he led the country through its worst time, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the things which caused it to become poor.

"People wanted to escape and so he put a firmer control on borders and more draconian measures so people don't talk of that time as being a happy time.

"When Kim Jong-un came along, even though he was young, he did bear a huge resemblance to Kim Il-sung (above, in his youth) so it's almost a reincarnation of him which should lead to a more prosperous and happy time."

But he is no less ruthless than his predecessors, executing his once powerful uncle for alleged crimes against the regime, with other senior figures appointed by his father purged by firing squad, flame-thrower and even mortar bombs.

A major part of that is Kim's development and refining of weapons of mass destruction, notably the successful 2017 test of a missile potentially capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Washington DC.

"He has cemented his own stamp on North Korea because since he came to power he has developed long range weapons that are capable of carrying his nuclear arsenal," said Chris.

"Once they have that ability then at the negotiating table your hand becomes so much stronger than it would be without it."

Belfast Telegraph