North Korea's secretive leader Kim Jong-il is suffering from life-threatening pancreatic cancer, according to a new report from the region. In recent days, fresh images released of Mr Kim have shown him looking gaunt and pale. The cancer diagnosis, if true, would explain the ailing 67-year-old's recent decision to name his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, 26, as his successor.
An unconfirmed report on South Korea's YTN television channel quoted unidentified intelligence sources in both China and South Korea claiming that Mr Kim was diagnosed with cancer when he suffered a stroke last year. The US National Cancer Institute puts the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer at 5.5 per cent. The precise state of the Mr Kim's health has long been a matter of obsession for observers of North Korea. In the past couple of years there have been several reports that the so-called "Dear Leader" was seriously unwell. Typically, there was no independent confirmation of yesterday's report from the reclusive Communist country.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Mr Kim's youngest son had been named as his successor, a position that had once appeared destined for his eldest son Kim Jong-nam, 38.
The cancer revelation came after a rare public appearance by the North Korean leader at the annual memorial for his late father Kim Il-sung, the founder of the country. It was only the second state event he had attended since his reported stroke last summer. Television footage showed him looking markedly thinner, with less hair, and limping slightly. However, not everyone believes his health is in such a perilous state.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, noted government statistics showing that Mr Kim made 77 trips to factories and farms across the nation in late June, compared with 49 visits during the same period last year. "Would he be able to carry out such brisk activity while having pancreatic cancer?" he told the Associated Press news agency.