Do Kim Jong-Un Photos Really Prove He's Back?

Mark Stone, Asia Correspondent

Kim Jong-Un has reappeared after 40 days out of sight. But do these "new" photos actually prove he's back? And if they do, where has he been?

The pictures, which dominate the front page of North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper, show Mr Kim touring a housing project .

It is standard North Korean propaganda: Mr Kim is, says the article, "giving field guidance" about the new development. In other words, he is issuing observations and directives to underlings, mostly military officers, who stand by, notebooks in hand.

But there's nothing to prove beyond doubt that the images were taken on Monday.

They could be unpublished photos from a previous visit - albeit a recent one, given that he is carrying a walking stick.

It is conceivable the photos were taken in the past few months, but not published at the time because Mr Kim didn't want to appear weak.

But with speculation over his whereabouts mounting, perhaps a decision was taken to release the pictures.

The images show a sunny day. The weather in Pyongyang on Monday was sunny with some cloud, but it's thought the pictures were taken in Pyongsong, 22 miles (35km) north of the capital, which he visited in January .

The North Korean regime has form in releasing doctored or inaccurate photographs.

In March 2013, photos released by North Korean media showed an "armada" of hovercraft landing on a beach as part of a military exercise.

Analysis of the images proved they had been photoshopped: one or two hovercraft had been "copied and pasted" to create an illusion that there were many more.

If we're to assume the photos released on Tuesday are genuine and new, then where has he been for the past 40 days?

Despite rumours of a coup, the most plausible explanation for his disappearance has always been illness, and that he's been recovering at a residence outside Pyongyang.

One report, in South Korea's Joongang Daily newspaper, quoted unnamed "North Korean sources" as claiming that Mr Kim was operated on by a French doctor in September and has been recuperating at his chalet in the mountains.

The chalet is visible from satellite images via Google Maps. It is one of several private residences built for the Kim family in the 1980s.

According to testimony from Hwang Jang-yop, a senior North Korean official who defected to the south in 1997, the chalet is linked by a tunnel to Mr Kim's summer residence in Kangdong, about 40 miles to the east.

Kangdong, also known as Yeongwon, is believed to be where Kim Jong-Un's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994.

The vast complex of guesthouses sits on several artificial lakes and is surrounded by elaborate gardens. The estate, which includes what looks like a racetrack, is visible from satellite imagery.

Various defectors have claimed that the North Korean regime has developed a vast network of tunnel systems over the past few decades which link up the Kim family homes in Pyongyang with country residences and airports.