Little was known about the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il outside his country. The notoriously reclusive “Dear Leader” avoided travelling, seldom going abroad. However, four trips to China are known and one to Russia. And North Koreans did not know his voice, as Kim never made a public speech. All of which adds an air of mystery to the Korean leader.
What becomes clear however, is that reality is difficult to separate from fiction. Soviet records claim Kim was born in Siberia in 1941, during the exile of his father, ex-North Korean leader Kim Il-sung.
Not according to the official version, which states Kim was born in mountain hut in 1942. For the regime, a day marked by a double rainbow and star in the sky. In the 1960s Kim climbed the ranks of the Korean workers’ party and was officially named his father’s successor in 1980. But, it was only in 1991, when Kim took control of the army, that he was able to gain a true lever on power.
Following the death of his father in 1994, a smooth transition of power took place three days later with Kim Jong-il seizing control – even if the dead Kim Il-sung remained officially “eternal president”.
During Kim Jong-il’s reign, North Korean’s have suffered chronic food shortages, with the country completely dependent on international aid due to years of economic crisis.
A country with little industry and an unproductive agricultural sector but, nevertheless, a country with the second biggest army in the world in relation to the size of its population.
North Korea has yet to sign a peace treaty with its South Korean neighbour. In June 2000, Kim Jong-il surprised the world by hosting South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in Pyongyang. The historic summit was seen as an attempt to improve relations with Seoul. But over the years, North-South relations have been frosty more often than warm; turning the “cold war” every now and then – as in November 2010 – into an almost hot one.
Kim Jong-Il’s nuclear programme has provoked a strong response from the world community. Washington has continually used promises of economic aid coupled with guarantees of non-aggression to try and persuade the regime to give up its nuclear ambitions.
Reputedly intelligent, pleasant and up-to-date on world affairs according to those around him, Kim was also known to enjoy the good life.
The North Korean premier had 17 children from several women.
But when his youngest son Kim Jong-un was promoted to “general” in September 2010, and appeared alongside his father at a military parade for the 65th anniversary of the North Korean communist party, international observers concluded Kim Jong-il was grooming him for a handover of power.