A major South Korean broadcaster is reporting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has a life-threatening form of cancer. His health has been in serious question since his apparent stroke about a year ago. The medical prognosis is a matter of utmost secrecy in the North.
South Korea's Unification Ministry says it has "no information" about Monday's broadcast report that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has cancer.
The South's main 24-hour cable network, YTN, has been reporting the cancer is in Kim Jong Il's pancreas. The network says 67-year-old Mr. Kim was diagnosed with the cancer at about the same time as he suffered his apparent stroke a little more than a year ago. The report cites unnamed South Korean and Chinese intelligence officials.
But there are doubts about the report.
Hah Tae-kyoung is the president of Open Radio for North Korea, a private organization that relies on secret sources in North Korea to report on conditions there.
"I don't believe it is true," said Hah.
Doctors say pancreatic cancer is virtually always fatal, and is often diagnosed in its latest stages. For that reason, Hah says he is skeptical about the YTN report.
"If somebody took pancreatic cancer it doesn't take more than one year for him to die... If that might be true, he [Kim] should have already died," he said.
It is widely accepted that Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke around July of last year. In video of Mr. Kim's rare media appearances, he appears gaunt and infirm. However, the North Korean government keeps secret almost all details of Mr. Kim's personal life, including his health.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, says even though he has been impaired, Kim Jong Il has functioned at a higher level than pancreatic cancer might permit.
He says it would have been almost impossible Kim Jong Il to travel around and provide on the spot guidance while suffering cancer pain since last August. He points out the North Korean leader also managed to have an hour-long talk with Chinese envoy Wang Jiarui, and attended last week's memorial ceremony for his father, Kim Il Sung.
Kim Jong Il and parents are the objects of worship in North Korea's official political ideology. The North's government structure revolves so completely around Kim Jong Il personally, that the country's regional neighbors view any threat to Mr. Kim's health as possibly destabilizing to the nation.
Recent reports indicate Kim Jong Il has designated his youngest son Kim Jong Un to replace him eventually, but serious questions remain about whether the younger Kim will be able to transcend competing factions in the North and hold the country together.