BY RICHARD LLOYD PARRY
North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Il, is suffering from cancer of the pancreas and is in danger of dying of the disease, South Korean television reported this morning, the latest and most specific in a series of reports on the dictator’s health.
The information, which was attributed by Yonhap Television News to unidentified Chinese and South Korean intelligence sources, is consistent with a report in a Japanese newspaper over the weekend that Mr Kim has a “serious pancreatic disorder”, and with television images from North Korea last week, in which he appeared haggard, emaciated and slow on his feet.
Mr Kim disappeared from public view for three months last year after what intelligence agencies assume was a stroke last August. Since then, judging from television footage of him, his health has declined.
The South Korean intelligence agency has reported signs that Mr Kim is paving the way for his youngest son, Kim Jong Un to succeed him; unconfirmed reports have even had the 25-year old visiting Beijing to get to know officials of the closest thing North Korea has to an ally – China.
All year, Pyongyang has staged a series of verbal and physical provocations, including the launch of an intercontinental rocket and an underground nuclear test, which suggest that it has abandoned expectations of negotiation with the international community in favour of whipping up nationalist fervour at home.
Thee are no obvious signs are that Kim Jong Il is in anything less than complete control, but close examination of recent internal developments leads many Pyongyang-watchers to the conclusion that he is leaning towards military hardliners, and away from the more reform-oriented advisers whom he favoured in the middle of the present decade.
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