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Did President Clinton meet N. Korea's Kim Jong-il or his look-alike?

The North Korean leader may be using look-alikes to hide his poor health. One analyst says that when President Clinton visited in August, he met with an actor, not Kim Jong-il.

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Did Clinton meet with look-alike?

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No one here, however, is ready to go as far as Japanese writer Toshimitsu Shigemura, who has written two books and numerous articles claiming that Kim has been seriously ill for the past decade and may even have died.

Mr. Shigemura says that if the real Kim, looking wan and weak, appeared before the Supreme People's Assembly several days after North Korea fired a long-range missile on April 5, then it must have been a look-alike who hosted former US President Bill Clinton in August.

"They were totally different people," says Mr. Shigemura, a former correspondent for Mainichi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, who now teaches international relations at Waseda University in Tokyo. "In August, he looked very healthy."

Shigemura suspects that a skilled actor delivered the lines to Mr. Clinton during their three-hour, 17-minute meeting, which ended with Mr. Clinton flying back to the US with two journalists who had been held for 140 days.

Shigemura is equally convinced that an actor played Kim in recent meetings with China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, and the head of Hyundai Asan, the South Korean company responsible for developing special economic and tourist complexes in North Korea.

After the June 2000 summit, says Shigemura, Kim "was bedridden with diabetes" and "cannot walk by himself." He cites the names of three Japanese who claim to have met his look-alikes, including one who was told flatly, "I am a double."

One of them, a magician named Princess Tenko, Shigemura describes as a "close friend" of Kim, saw him more than once in visits to Pyongyang.

Fully self-possessed

Some analysts here, however, have trouble with Shigemura's analysis.

"There have been such rumors," says Kim Tae-woo, a veteran North Korea specialist at the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses. "Dictators usually do that, but we don't know whether this is real or fake."

The North Korean leader's preoccupation these days, he says, is arranging the succession of his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, still in his late 20s.

Ryoo Kihl-jae, professor at the University of North Korean Studies, is dubious about such reports. Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek, appears to be the most powerful figure after the Dear Leader, he says, "but his authority stems from Kim Jong-il" and two or three generals are vying for control.

For now, says Mr. Ryoo, Kim is "living well," and the reports of a double standing in for him are "just imagination."