Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Profile: Kim Jong-il

Kim Jong-il (undated image, released by Korean Central News Agency in August 2008)
Sunglasses and military outfits are Kim Jong-il's trademark

The little that is known about Kim Jong-il, North Korea's leader, conjures up a caricature of a diminutive playboy, a comic picture at odds with his brutal regime.

Diplomats and escaped dissidents talk of a vain, paranoid, cognac-guzzling hypochondriac.

He is said to wear platform shoes and favour a bouffant hairstyle in order to appear taller than his 1.57m (5ft 3in).

But analysts are undecided whether his eccentricities mask the cunning mind of a master manipulator or betray an irrational madman.

Mr Kim may well encourage the myth-making surrounding him precisely in order to keep the Western world guessing. North Korea has little to bargain with, and ignorance breeds fear.

Film buff

The analysis of him as a mercurial fantasist is certainly beguiling.

I know I'm an object of criticism in the world but if I am being talked about, I must be doing the right things
Kim Jong-il

He is said to have a library of 20,000 Hollywood movies and to have even written a book on the cinema. He even went so far as to engineer the kidnapping, in 1978, of a South Korean film director and his girlfriend.

This taste for the exotic apparently extends to gastronomy.

Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian emissary who travelled with Mr Kim by train across Russia, reported that the North Korean leader had live lobsters air-lifted to the train every day which he ate with silver chopsticks.

The two men shared champagne with a bevy of female companions of "utmost beauty and intelligence", according to Mr Pulikovsky.

Mr Kim also has a reputation as a drinker.

He was seen draining 10 glasses of wine during his 2000 summit with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and is known to have a taste for Hennessy VSOP cognac.


But such an unlikely reputation masks Mr Kim's dangerous past.

I found him very much on top of his brief
Madeleine Albright
former US Secretary of State,

As head of North Korea's special forces for much of the 70s and 80s, he has been linked by defectors to international terrorist activities, including the 1986 bombing of a Korean Airlines jet in which 115 people died.

Nor should it be assumed that eccentricity means inability. Mr Kim is said to follow assiduously international events on the internet and some see him as a clever manipulator, willing to take great risks to underpin his regime - such as his apparent decision to test a nuclear device.

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has met Mr Kim, said that the North Korean leader was very well informed and "not delusional".

"I found him very much on top of his brief," she added, although she noted that some of the comments he made about his plans for the North Korean economy sounded illogical.

Birth 'blessed'

The cult surrounding Kim Jong-il extends even to his birth. He was born in Siberia in 1941 when his father, Kim Il-sung, was in exile in the former Soviet Union.

But according to official North Korean accounts, he was born in a log cabin at his father's guerrilla base on North Korea's highest mountain, Mt Paektu, in February 1942.

The event was reportedly marked by a double rainbow and a bright star in the sky.

The younger Kim graduated from Kim Il-sung University in 1964, and after a period of grooming for leadership, he was officially designated successor to his father in 1980.

But he did not hold any positions of real power until 1991, when he took control of the armed forces - despite his lack of military experience.

Analysts believe he was given the position to counter potential resistance to his eventual succession.

After the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994, it was three years before he took over the leadership of the ruling Korean Workers' Party.

Typically, he has kept his choice of successor close to his chest, if indeed he has made a decision.

Speculation has often focused on his eldest son, but one South Korean report suggested that he had named his third son.

It's an important question - Mr Kim reportedly suffers from heart disease and diabetes, and his disappearance from public view in late 2008 prompted reports that he had suffered a stroke.

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