North Korea supreme leader Kim Jong Un has been absent for yet another three-week period as of Monday, June 29 and the country held no public events to mark his fourth year in office, which has come as a surprise for many observers.

It is the third time that the North Korean dictator has been absent for 21 days or more after rumors about his poor health and death emerged last time in in April. The disappearance of Kim Jong Un was observed days after Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said in a press conference that Tokyo has some "suspicion about his health."

North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during a celebration for nuclear scientists and engineers who contributed to a hydrogen bomb test, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 10, 2017. Reuters

Even though Kim Jong Un ordered last week an abrupt suspension of "military action" against the neighboring South Korea, no photos of the North Korean leader making the decision were released by the state-run media organizations. His last public appearance was over three weeks ago, on June 8.

Less Involvement in Public Events

The son of former Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il skipped public addresses on the birthday of his father on February 16 and even more important event, the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung on April 15. The period has also marked an all-time seasonal low for his public appearances.

As per NK Pro Leadership Tracker, Kim Jong Un is significantly quieter than usual, as he appeared only seven times in April, May, and June this year. It showed a significant drop from 46 appearances he made on average in the same period from 2012 to 2019.

Fyodor Tertitskiy, a professor at Kookmin University and contributor to NK News, said, "I guess he is probably sick and probably getting treatment. It is the only logical explanation ... We should remember he skipped the April 15 visit to the Mausoleum, and he wouldn't have done so unless he had very serious reasons."

South Korean officials also claimed that this year North Korea appeared to be cutting back on major ceremonies in which many people gather. Though the country claimed that that it has zero Coronavirus cases, "it looks like it [North Korea] is choosing not to hold mass events for the sake of enforcing social distancing," said Tertitskiy. Earlier, Japanese minister Kono also said, "number one, that COVID-19 is spreading around North Korea as well, and Kim Jong Un is trying to... not [be] infected by COVID-19. So sometimes he doesn't come [out] in public."

Instead of organizing a huge event to mark Kim Jong Un's fourth year as State Affairs Commission (SAC) Chairman, the occasion was confined to media splash on Monday on how the 36-year-old leader of Workers' Party led the country against foreign aggressors.

Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the country's ruling party has devoted its top three pages to articles praising Kim Jong Un, including one editorial that called him "our sun that has risen holy and high." It said Kim Jong Un had "in the worst of crises raised the country's prestige and might to the apex."

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North Korea leader Kim Jong Un

Since the state-run media organizations don't publish everything that happens in North Korea, analysts often attribute his disappearance for longer period to illness. In September 2008, when people in the capital were expecting to see their leader Kim Jong Il at the major military parade to celebrate the country's founding, he was not there. It was later confirmed that he was seriously ill.

Jean H Lee, Director of Korea Program at Wilson Centre and former AP Pyongyang Bureau chief, said, "we finally got intel sources in Washington DC to confirm that they believed that Kim Jong-il has suffered a stroke several weeks earlier in August and was in a coma." But the North Korean media did not cover the news. Instead, the TV channels showed old documentaries featuring Kim Jong Un's father.