SEOUL, South Korea — Faced with growing questions, the government Wednesday defended its reports that loudspeakers across the border in North Korea had announced the death of North Korean President Kim Il Sung.
The reports were deflated Tuesday when the 74-year-old Kim appeared at an airport welcoming ceremony for a Mongolian delegation.
A high-level South Korean official told reporters there was solid evidence the broadcasts were made from loudspeakers along the demilitarized zone which separates South Korea and Communist North Korea. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said longstanding policy bars release of details about monitoring of the broadcasts.
The U.S. military issued a statement Wednesday saying, "Because North Korea is a tightly closed society, it is extremely difficult to get accurate, timely information which might shed light on what is happening in the north. Some things we may never know."
A Seoul newspaper quoted unidentified Defense Ministry sources as saying the loudspeaker broadcasts were not recorded but were heard by front-line troops.
Sources familiar with conditions along the DMZ said North Korea's usual propaganda broadcasts often are difficult to hear clearly. They said that when North Korean loudspeakers begin to blare, speakers on the southern side sometimes are turned up to drown them out.
The reports began Monday when South Korea's Defense Ministry announced that North Korean loudspeakers along the DMZ had announced the day before that Kim was shot to death. The ministry later reported loudspeaker announcements that North Korean Defense Minister O Jin U had seized power.
North Korean officials in posts abroad quickly denied the reports, and some accused South Korea of carrying out a propaganda maneuver. On Tuesday morning, North Korea's official media and witnesses in Pyongyang reported that Kim had appeared at the airport and seemed in good health. North Korea transmitted a photograph and television film of the airport ceremony.
South Korea's media was filled Wednesday with stories charging North Korea with deliberately tricking the south.
Defense Minister Lee Ki Baek was reported to have told National Assembly members the North Korean loudspeaker announcement could have resulted from a power struggle in the north or have been a psychological warfare move against the south.
"Our military has strong countermeasures to either of the two possibilities," Seoul newspapers quoted him as telling an assembly committee.
Local newspaper accounts claimed North Korea sought to discredit Seoul in the international community and to destabilize South Korean society.