FACTBOX: A look at North Korean leader Kim Jong-il

Sun Jul 12, 2009 10:18pm EDT

(Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, 67, has pancreatic cancer, South Korean broadcaster YTN said on Monday in an unsourced news flash.

Following are five facts about Kim Jong-il, a few of which have been embellished by the North's official media to build a cult of personality:

BIRTH

February 16, 1942. Western reports suggest Kim was born at an army camp in the Soviet Union where his father was a leading figure among Korean communist exiles receiving training. The North says Kim was born in a secret guerrilla camp at Mount Paektu, a peak considered sacred to Koreans.

Kim Jong-il's younger brother mysteriously drowns in 1947.

EARLY YEARS

Kim is mostly educated in China and later attends Kim Il-sung University -- named after his father -- in Pyongyang. He joins the ruling Korean Workers' Party upon graduation and quickly rises in its ranks. By 1969, he is a member of its Politburo and deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department.

North Korea's official biography said that in elementary school, Kim showed his revolutionary spirit by leading marches to battlefields where Korean rebels fought against Japanese occupiers of the peninsula.

ANNOINTED SUCCESSOR

Kim Il-sung names his son as his successor in 1974. Kim Jong-il, now referred to as the "Dear Leader" in state media, steadily increases his power in domestic, international and security affairs in the 1980s.

Intelligence experts say Kim ordered the 1983 bombing in the capital of Burma, now Myanmar, that killed 17 senior South Korean officials and the bombing of a Korean Air jetliner in 1987 that killed 115.

Kim is also suspected of devising plans to raise cash by kidnapping Japanese, dealing drugs through North Korean embassies and counterfeiting currency.

POWER SHIFT

Takes power in 1994 when his father dies at age of 82. Kim Jong-il assumes title of grand secretary of the Workers' Party and chairman of the National Defense Commission, but does not take title as president. "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung is named eternal president.

North Korea's already feeble economy only became weaker under Kim and suffered a famine in the late 1990s that experts said killed about 1 million of the country's 22 million people.

Kim was suspected of suffering a stroke in August 2008 that raised questions about who would succeed him.

CULT OF PERSONALITY

According to North Korean officials and state media, Kim boasts a photographic memory, has piloted jet fighters, composed operas, directed globally acclaimed movies and hit 11 holes-in-one in the first round of golf he ever played.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz, Editing by Dean Yates)

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