Media report: North Korea's Kim Jong Il has cancer(Read article summary)
The report was not confirmed by South Korean intelligence sources, but it underlines the uncertainty surrounding the North Korean leader's eventual succession.
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The report cited unnamed South Korean and Chinese intelligence officials. Representatives from the two countries are meeting now in Seoul to discuss how to deal with a North Korea that has become increasingly belligerent in recent months.
Mike Chinoy, author of Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis, raised concerns about the reliability of the report. "The way information leaks out of South Korea is very prone to manipulation," he told Voice of America.
"You have the South Korean intelligence service, which is highly politicized, which has a conservative bent," says the expert with the California-based Pacific Council on International Policy. "Clearly, they know a lot, but they have a long track record of manipulating what they know for their own political purposes.
The report heightens uncertainty about North Korea's direction and worries over Mr. Kim's succession. Bloomberg reported that the news contributed to a slide in both the Korean currency, the won, and the South Korean stock market to their lowest level in two months.
That and other reports noted that Kim looked "gaunt" and ill during a rare public appearance last Wednesday to mark the 15th anniversary of his father's death. Chosun Ilbo cited other South Korean media reports:
Last month a South Korean newspaper reported that Pyongyang was trying to import expensive medical equipment to treat the leader through intermediaries in China. The report did not specify the disease, but said Kim's condition was serious.
Reuters added further details on pancreatic cancer and Kim's many suspected health problems. It said that Kim was thought to have suffered a stroke a year ago, and to suffer from other health problems.
Separately, the Chosun Ilbo reported that South Korean intelligence officials speculate that Kim's death could result in a power struggle between his youngest son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, and a faction lead by Jang Song-taek, the leader's brother-in-law and a member of the National Defense Commission, and "the purported No. 2 man in North Korea."
Many analysts have speculated that there is a connection between the question of who will succeed the senior Kim to lead North Korea, and Pyongyang's recent aggressive behavior.
On April 5, North Korea made a failed attempt to put a satellite in orbit, in violation of UN resolutions. Days later it pulled out of the six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear program, and later expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. On May 25 it tested a nuclear device, and on June 8, it sentenced two US journalists arrested on the border with China to 12 years of hard labor.
In a June report, the International Crisis Group wrote that North Korea's nuclear test "might be about ensuring that the military will accept whatever decision Kim Jong-il has made on his successor." The ICG added:
A likely succession in North Korea could unleash instability, or it could result in a much more belligerent or isolated military regime. The transfer of power after Kim Jong-il is far less clear than when his father died in 1994.