updated 11/16/2008 12:44:11 AM ET 2008-11-16T05:44:11

North Korea's absolute leader Kim Jong Il has appeared in public at a military art performance, the communist country's state news agency reported amid continued speculation about his health.

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Kim and top military officers attended the 32nd military art festival, featuring army and navy performers, the country's official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch from Pyongyang on Saturday.

Kim "waved back to the enthusiastically cheering performers and congratulated them on their successful presentation," the KCNA said, adding that Kim told the soldiers that art could make them better fighters.

However, the report — monitored early Sunday in Seoul — did not say when and where Kim watched the performance.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, was not immediately available to comment Sunday.

South Korean and U.S. officials suspect Kim suffered a stroke and underwent a brain surgery in August. North Korea has denied the speculation, releasing a slew of media reports and photographs portraying Kim as active and healthy.

Yet rumors remain, mainly because all the North Korean reports and photos have been undated. Some photos showed lush, green trees at a time when the Korean peninsula was awash in autumnal foliage.

Kim's health is of keen interest because he rules the isolated, nuclear-armed nation with absolute authority and has not publicly named a successor.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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