Image taken from North Korea's official website,

A Japanese expert on North Korea is claiming that the country's dictatorial ruler has in fact been dead for years, and is simply played by same-sized doubles at public events.

Jong-Il makes few public appearances and when he does he's surrounded by soaring security guards. Japanese North Korea expert Toshimitsu Shigemura says that's because he died in 2003 and is played by doubles. He demonstrated this by testing the voices of these supposed doubles, which he says did not match the voice of the real head of state.

And his suspicions were thought to be confirmed on Tuesday when Kim Jong didn't turn up to the country's 60th anniversary parade. The news was received warmly around the world, where Kim is largely considered a reclusive and hostile dictator. It has also been received somewhat unquestioningly. The 66-year-old is indeed a long-time sufferer of diabetes, whose conditions worsened in August. But that doesn't mean he's dead. Our Observer says he's simply sick, which is why he's been resting at home.

"The real question is, who would replace him?"

Park In-ho is a journalist for The Daily NK, a website run by exiled North Korean journalists in South Korea.

I don't think Kim is dead or incapacitated, but he is probably sick. Today North Korea was supposed to give a military parade to commemorate its foundation. As head of the military, Kim would have had to have been there, since North Korea is run like a military state. Instead, they just had a parade of ordinary citizens.

The real question is, who would replace him? Kim has three sons. The first two are considered possible heirs but they are not viable. The first one has a bad image because he tried to enter Japan on a false Dominican passport so he could go to Disneyland Tokyo. The second son studied in Switzerland, but he is too young. The most likely candidate is Chang sung-taek, who is the husband of his younger sister. He currently serves as the head of the Labour party. Kim lives with a woman, not his wife, named Kim Ok, who serves as his secretary. She will be very influential over the decision."