- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

SEOUL | North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has life-threatening pancreatic cancer, a news report said Monday, days after new images of him looking gaunt spurred speculation that his health might be worsening following a reported stroke last year.

The 67-year-old Mr. Kim was diagnosed with the cancer about the time he was felled by a stroke last summer, Seoul’s YTN television reported, citing unidentified intelligence officials in South Korea and China.

The report cited the officials as saying the disease is “threatening” Mr. Kim’s life.

Pancreatic cancer is usually found in its final stage, and considering Mr. Kim’s age, he is expected to live no more than five years, the report said.

South Korea’s spy agency said it could not confirm the report.

Mr. Kim’s health is a focus of intense media speculation because of concerns about instability and a power struggle if he dies without naming a successor. His third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, has widely been reported as being groomed as his heir, but the regime has made no announcement to the outside world.

Mr. Kim last week made a rare public appearance in an annual memorial for his late father and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

Television footage showed him markedly thinner and with less hair. It was only the second state event he has attended in person since the reported stroke. He also limped slightly, and the sides of his tight-lipped mouth looked imbalanced in what were thought to be the effects of a stroke.

The images touched off speculation that he could have other health problems. South Korea’s spy agency has long suspected that Mr. Kim has diabetes and heart disease.

Medical doctor and professor Min Yang-ki of Seoul’s Hallym University Medical Center has said diabetes usually leads to weight loss. The neurologist also said Mr. Kim’s limping appears to be the result of a stroke. However, he said, overall it appeared Mr. Kim has recovered from that reported illness.

Mr. Kim walked on his own into a Pyongyang auditorium for last week’s memorial at a normal pace and bowed while standing during a moment of silence. North Korea observers said the latest images of Mr. Kim show he is still fit enough to rule.

The totalitarian leader, whose rule is buttressed by an intense cult of personality, knew that the people of North Korea would pay great attention to the memorial, and his appearance there is a message that he is in charge, Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said last week.

Mr. Kim took over North Korea after his father died in 1994 of heart failure at age 82, though he did not take on his father’s title of president. He runs the North from his post as chairman of the National Defense Commission.

In early April, he presided over a parliamentary meeting where he was re-elected as leader.

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