Last modified 30 March 2013
First published 16 October 2003. Reviewed 12 March 2012
AKA 'Great Leader', AKA 'Eternal Leader', AKA 'Suryong' (Supreme Leader).
Country: North Korea.
Kill tally: About three million killed in the Korean War. Between 600,000 and one million North Koreans needlessly starved to death due to the economic legacy of Kim's regime. (Some reports claim that as many as three million starved.)
Background: From an early date Korean political culture is characterised by isolationism and a strong desire to maintain independence. China, though treated with deference, is kept at arm's length, and relations with other neighbours are discouraged. Among Westerners, Korea comes to be known as the 'Hermit Kingdom'.
Nevertheless, the country is unable to stop encroachment by neighbours. Korea is made a Japanese protectorate in 1905 and is turned into a full colony of the growing Japanese Empire in 1910. By the 1940s there are about 700,000 Japanese in Korea, mostly working in government service. While the Japanese policies result in substantial economic growth, Koreans become second-class citizens in their own land. More background.
Mini biography: Born on 15 April 1912 in Mangyongdae, in the Pyongyang Province of northern Korea, into what was probably a middle-class family. His birth name is Kim Song Ju. He is the eldest of three sons. Kim's younger brother dies early. His youngest brother will serve with him until the mid-1970s. Kim's father is a Christian and Kim attends church throughout his teens.
1919 - On 1 March a group of 33 Korean intellectuals call for independence from Japan, sparking nationwide mass protests (the so-called 'March 1st Movement') that continue for months despite harsh repression by the Japanese.
The movement fails to win independence for Korea but does cause the Japanese to reform their administration.
Meanwhile, Kim's parents leave Japanese-occupied Korea for Manchuria, where Kim attends a Chinese school.
1923 - In April, Kim moves to Pyongyang for further schooling. He returns to Manchuria in 1925 and continues his education.
1925 - The Korean Communist Party (KCP) is founded in Seoul.
1926 - Kim's father dies at the age of 32. Kim's mother will die in 1932.
1929 - In October, while attending Yuwen Middle School in Jilin, Manchuria, Kim is jailed for belonging to a student political group led by the South Manchurian Communist Youth Association. When he is released in May the following year, he joins a unit of the Anti-Japanese United Army operating in Manchuria's Jilin Province. In 1932 he is made the unit's commander.
1930s - The anti-Japanese resistance strengthens after Japan invades Manchuria in 1931. Over 200,000 Chinese and Koreans join guerrilla groups, though the number quickly drops to several thousand after a bloody Japanese counterinsurgency campaign.
Kim emerges as a significant resistance leader during this time, commanding the 6th Division, 2nd Army, 1st Route Army of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army. At its height, Kim's division numbers about 300. The Japanese consider him to be so effective and dangerous they form a special unit to track him down. It is during this phase that he adopts the name Kim Il Sung, supposedly in honour of his uncle, who was a participant in the 1919 uprising.
1937 - The Second Sino-Japanese War breaks out on 7 July following a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beijing. Now on a war footing, Japan cracks down on its colony in Korea. Koreans are required to speak Japanese and take Japanese names.
1940 - Kim's first wife, Kim Hye Sun, is captured by the Japanese on 6 April and later killed by them.
1941 - Kim is reputedly the only surviving leader of the Anti-Japanese United Army left in Manchuria. In March, he and about 120 of his men flee to Siberia, where they are detained by Soviet authorities and forced to join the 88th Special Independent Guerrilla Brigade of the Soviet Army, a unit assigned to intelligence gathering activities in Manchuria.
Kim is given command of the 1st Battalion of the brigade, and he and his men are trained in espionage, radio communications and sabotage. They also receive political instruction. Kim and his men will work with the Soviets until the end of the war, by which time Kim has reached the rank of captain.
The decision to attack the US will prove fatal for the Japanese. After initial naval and battlefield successes an overstretched and increasingly desperate Japanese military is slowly driven back.
Kim's second wife, Kim Jong Suk, gives birth to a son, Kim Jong Il, on 16 February. The child is born in an army camp in the Siberian city of Vyatskoye. (Some sources give the date of Kim Jong Il's birth as 16 February 1942.)
As part of the personality cult that will be created around Kim Il Sung and his son it is later claimed that Kim Jong Il was born in a log cabin on the slopes of North Korea's highest and most sacred peak, Paektu-san (White Head Mountain), on the border with Manchuria.
To amplify the messianic nature of the myth it will be said that a double rainbow, a bright star in the sky and a swallow descending from heaven heralded his birth.
Kim Jong Suk will bear three more children to Kim Il Sung, two boys and a girl. However, both boys will die young, one in a swimming accident and the other during a difficult birth that will also kill Kim Jong Suk.
1942 - Kim Il Sung, his wife and a band of guerrillas and their families return to Korea from Siberia in September.
1945 - The US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 respectively. Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrenders unconditionally on 15 August 1945, ending both the Second World War and the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The Korean Peninsula is divided along the 38th parallel into two military occupation zones, with the US administering the south and the Soviet Union the north. Though initially intended as a temporary measure to facilitate the surrender of Japanese troops, the partition becomes permanent as the Cold War sets in.
North Korea, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), is formed under Soviet sponsorship and South Korea, or the Republic of Korea (ROK), receives backing from the US.
Kim and about 40 of his partisans return to Pyongyang on 19 September aboard the Soviet warship 'Pukachev'. Kim has been selected by the Far East command of the Soviet secret police to take charge of the formation of a provisional government in the North.
1946 - The Korean Workers' Party (KWP) is formed on 28 August through a merger of the Communist Party of North Korea and the New Democratic Party of Korea (led by Kim Tubong).
Under the joint leadership of the Kim Il Sung and Kim Tubong, the KWP begins to introduce a number of reforms to the North, including an eight-hour working day, equality of the sexes and suppression of religion.
Land and wealth formerly belonging to the Japanese or to enemies of the regime is confiscated and redistributed, industry is nationalised and Soviet-style economic planning is initiated.
1947 - In February, the People's Committee of North Korea is formally established as the government of the North. Kim heads the committee. Political power rests with the Supreme People's Assembly, which is also headed by Kim.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and North Korean authorities refuse to comply with a United Nations (UN) resolution calling for a general election to determine the government of a unified Korea. Despite this refusal, elections go ahead in the South where, on 15 August 1948, the Republic of Korea is established.
1948 - The DPRK declares its independence on 9 September. Kim is head of state and government as well as chairman of the Central Committee of the KWP, and at one point controls the military. Opponents within the party are purged to secure his absolute rule.
Both the Republic of Korea in the South and the DPRK in the North claim to be the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula.
1949 - The US, having decided that South Korea lies outside its vital defence perimeter, begins to pull its troops out of the region. Kim subsequently starts sounding the drums for a preemptive war of reunification, believing that the US troop withdrawal is a prelude to an invasion of the North by South Korean forces.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin vetoes a plan by Kim to launch an attack but does provide aid to assist with the build-up of a military force capable of countering the estimated 300,000 South Korean troops massing on the border at the 38th parallel. When low-level clashes begin to occur the border is fortified.
Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-Tung also tells Kim that the time is not right for a preemptive attack, advising that he wait until the Chinese communists finally expel the Guomindang nationalists and take complete control of China.
Meanwhile, Kim's second wife, Kim Jong Suk, dies in childbirth in September.
1950 - Kim spends April in Moscow attempting to convince Stalin and the Soviet authorities that he can win a war with the South. Finally Stalin agrees. The following month, during a visit by Kim to Beijing, Mao also gives the go-ahead.
The Korean War, known in the north as the 'Fatherland Liberation War' or the 'Great War for the Liberation of the Motherland', begins on 25 June when North Korean forces march into the South. Kim is head of the military committee coordinating the action as well as supreme commander of the Korean People's Army.
According to the UN, the invasion is "initiated without warning and without provocation, in execution of a carefully prepared plan." The UN Security Council passes a resolution demanding that the North Koreans withdraw. When they refuse the UN General Assembly authorises military action against the North.
The Soviet-backed North Korean troops are initially successful, seizing all but a small corner in the southeast of the country within a month. However, final victory eludes the North Koreans.
The situation is quickly reversed is early September when the US-led UN Command force launches a surprise counteroffensive behind the North Korean lines then drives Kim's army back almost to the border with China. The North Koreans avoid a total rout only with the aid of the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, a massive force numbering almost three million troops, that is dispatched by Mao. By early 1951 the opposing forces are again facing off over the 38th parallel.
The UN intervention is the body's first collective action since its formation in 1945. The Command force is comprised of troops from 16 member nations (Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Columbia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and the US) and medical support from five others (Denmark, India, Italy, Norway and Sweden).
1952 - Membership of the Korean Workers' Party now numbers one million.
1953 - The Korean War ends on 27 July when the North, the UN Command and China sign an armistice. Neither the US nor South Korea sign the agreement, though both adhere to its provisions. A 2 km-wide demilitarised zone is established along the border.
The war has claimed up to two million civilian casualties.
North Korean troop casualties are estimated at about 867,000, including 317,000 dead, 304,000 wounded and 102,000 missing in action (Chinese sources put the figure at 520,000).
Chinese casualties are estimated at about 953,000, including 423,000 dead, 487,000 wounded and 22,000 missing. (Chinese sources put the casualty figure at between 431,000 and one million, including 145,000 to 152,000 dead, 26,000 captured or missing, 260,000 to 383,000 wounded and 450,000 hospitalised.)
South Korea suffers 58,127 combat deaths and 175,743 wounded. (Chinese sources claim 415,000 deaths and 429,000 wounded.)
US casualties include 54,246 dead and 103,284 wounded. Casualties for the other countries under the UN Command include 3,322 dead and 11,949 wounded. Throughout Korea, but especially in the North, much of the basic infrastructure has been destroyed.
Kim claims victory, saying, "The Korean people achieved the heroic victory in the three years fighting against the armed invaders, the Imperialist Yankees, to defend the freedom and independence of the Motherland. The North American imperialist aggressors suffered an humiliating defeat in their military adventure when they tried to convert our Motherland into their colony and make Korean people become slaves for them."
Under the armistice an international conference is convened at Geneva in April 1954 to try to find a political solution to the problem of Korea's division. However, the conference ends without agreement or progress after seven weeks of futile debate. To this day, the North and the South technically remain at war.
Back in the North, senior leaders within the KWP attempt to overthrow Kim in September 1953. Eleven conspirators in the failed coup are later convicted in a show trial. It is believed that all are executed and their property confiscated.
A major purge of the KWP follows, with members originating from South Korea being expelled. Further purges are launched in the late 1950s, when the axe falls on the pro-Chinese and pro-Russian factions, and in the late 1960s, when the military is placed under the spotlight.
The post-war period also sees the establishment by Kim of a work camp system similar to that used in the Soviet Union for the detention of "political" prisoners. It is estimated that by the end of the century between 150,000 and 200,000 political and criminal prisoners are held in six or seven sprawling complexes called 'kwan-li-so' (political penal-labour colonies).
Most inmates face life sentences, many for "crimes" such as reading a foreign newspaper, singing a South Korean pop song or "insulting the authority" of the North Korean leadership.
Kim's decree that "factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations" condemns up to three generations of the families of political prisoners to life imprisonment without trial.
Over the coming decades stories of the conditions in the camps will begin to emerge.
On 22 October 2003 the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea releases a report documenting "a vast and inhumane prison system for political prisoners" in the North. Titled 'The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea's Prison Camps', the report is based on interviews with 31 North Korean exiles, including escaped former prisoners, former prison guards and a former prison-system official.
According to the report, "All the prison facilities are characterised by very large numbers of deaths in detention from forced, hard labour accompanied by deliberate starvation-level food rations. Incarceration of Koreans repatriated from China includes routine torture during interrogation and the practice of forced abortion or infanticide inflicted upon babies borne by pregnant repatriates."
1955 - Kim develops a Marxist-Leninist political ideology that emphasises the need for autonomy and patriotic self-reliance. Called 'Juche' (also spelt Chuch'e), or 'Kim Il Sung Thought', the ideology demands total loyalty to the paramount leader and stresses the benefits of sacrifice, austerity, discipline, dedication, unity and patriotism. It is described as "encyclopaedic thought which provides a complete answer to any question that arises in the struggle for national liberation and class emancipation, in the building of socialism and communism."
However, while preaching self-reliance, Kim begins to travel regularly to the Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe to seek loans and aid for the reconstruction of North Korean's shattered economy and infrastructure.
At the same time as North Koreans are being encouraged to follow the "Juche idea", a personality cult is created around Kim, in the mould of the cults created around Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao in China.
Kim is described as the "iron-willed, ever-victorious commander", the "great sun and great man", the "great leader", the "great father", the "sun of the nation", the "clairvoyant", "the supreme brain of the nation", a "matchless patriot" and "national hero" and "one of the genius leaders of the international communist movement and workers' movement." He comes to be seen by North Koreans as a semi-divine emperor.
The North Korean media, which is entirely state-owned and controlled, ceaselessly promotes a highly fabricated biography of Kim that portrays him as an infallible genius and the driving force behind the resistance to the Japanese and the liberation of the North.
By the late 1980s, Kim will have erected more than 34,000 monuments to himself. His portrait will be displayed in public spaces throughout the country, within every private home and on most articles of clothing. The calendar will be recalibrated to begin at the year of Kim's birth (1912), which is called 'Juche 1'. His birthday will be declared a national holiday.
All questioning or dissent is outlawed, as is the practice of any religion other than the worship of Kim Il Sung.
The personality cult will be extended to Kim's son, Kim Jong Il, who is dubbed the 'Dear Leader' and described as "a genius of 10,000 talents", "the morning star", the "central brain."
Meanwhile, a Soviet-style development program results in economic growth surpassing that in South Korea, a pattern that will continue until the late 1970s, when growth rates begin to fall just as foreign debt begins to rise.
A similar scenario will develop in the agricultural sector, where collectivisation sees initial increases in production and rural living standards before the situation begins to reverse.
1955 - In April, at a gathering of leaders of 29 African and Asian nations at Bandung in Indonesia, Indonesian President Sukarno presents Kim with a new variety of hybrid orchid. Named 'Kimilsungia', the orchid becomes one of North Korea's two national flowers. The other, a variety of camellia, is called 'Kimjongilia'.
1962 - Kim marries his third wife, Kim Song Ae. It is believed that the couple have four children.
1966 - Kim is named general secretary of the Central Committee of the KWP.
1967 - In China, Kim becomes a target of Mao Tse-Tung's 'Cultural Revolution', with the 'Red Guards' denouncing him as a counter-revolutionary revisionist, a millionaire and a capitalist.
1968 - On 21 January, North Korean commandos attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung Hee and other senior government officials. Kim Il Sung later claims to have known nothing about the raid.
Two days after the assassination attempt, the US spy ship 'Pueblo' is seized in international waters by North Korean gunboats. The ship's crew is held until December. In April 1969, a US reconnaissance plane is shot down by North Korean MiG jet fighters.
Many other similar incidents will occur over the coming years, with infiltration by North Korean agents into the South being particularly common.
South Korea also engages in cross-border espionage, including one mission to assassinate Kim Il Sung that is planned immediately after the attempt to kill President Park Chung Hee but never carried out.
1972 - Kim relinquishes his position as head of government but remains head of state by becoming president under a revised constitution.
During the celebrations of his 60th birthday, Kim's personality cult and deification reach new levels, with 300,000 North Koreans attending the opening of a revolutionary museum in Pyongyang that is fronted by a 21-metre high bronze statue of Kim.
Meanwhile, the two Koreas hold talks at a high level, announcing on 4 July that they will seek a peaceful reunification. However, the initiative quickly falters. Talk of reunification will splutter along for the rest of the century and into the next without any significant progress.
1973 - In September, Kim Jong Il is made a secretary of the KWP's Central Committee.
1974 - In August another unsuccessful assassination attempt is made on South Korean President Park Chung Hee. Hee's wife is killed during the attempt.
In November a North Korean infiltration tunnel is discovered under the demilitarised zone. The South Korean authorities will discover other tunnels in March 1975, October 1978 and March 1990. As many as 17 tunnels are believed to have been constructed.
The North will also fortify its side of the demilitarised zone with about 11,000 artillery pieces aimed at the South.
1976 - The KWP now claims to have a membership of two million.
1980 - At the Sixth Party Congress held in October it is announced that Kim Jong Il will succeed his father. Party membership is now said to number 3.2 million.
During the 1980s signs that the North's economy is in trouble become increasingly obvious. By 1986 the North will have defaulted on all its loans from free-market countries and its foreign debt will have reached US$6 billion.
The problems will be further compounded after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the associated drop in communist aid.
The South, meanwhile, goes from economic strength to strength.
1982 - In April, Kim Il Sung announces a new economic policy giving priority to increased agricultural production through land reclamation, development of the country's infrastructure and reliance on domestically produced equipment. There is also more emphasis on trade.
Kim's 70th birthday is celebrated in lavish style, with the Juche Tower and Arch of Triumph being unveiled. The tower is a larger version of the Washington Monument and features 25,550 blocks of granite, one for each day of the 70 years of Kim's life. The arch is a larger version of Arc de Triomphe in Paris and features 70 base reliefs of azaleas. On the same day, a 100,000-seat Kim Il Sung Stadium is opened.
1983 - In October, North Korean agents attempt to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan while he is Rangoon, the capital of Burma. A bomb intended for Chun kills 17 senior South Korean officials and injures 14 others. Four Burmese nationals are also killed and 32 wounded.
President Chun, who is unharmed, states that the bombing is "a grave provocation not unlike a declaration of war," and warns the North that "should such a provocation recur, there would be a corresponding retaliation in kind."
Kim Il Sung dismisses Chun's statement as "a preposterous slander" and suggests that the bombing was "masterminded" by Chun for a "hideous purpose." However, two North Korean suspects arrested and tried for the bombing confirm that it was planned by the DPRK. On 4 November Burma breaks off diplomatic relations with North Korea.
1984 - Kim Il Sung visits Moscow in May, his first trip to the Soviet Union since 1961. The trip results in renewed deliveries of advanced Soviet weaponry to North Korea and increases in economic aid.
1986 - North Korea joins the nuclear age, commissioning a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, 100 km north of Pyongyang. The North will soon begin a program to develop nuclear weapons, using plutonium reprocessed from the reactor's spent fuel rods and extracted from enriched uranium.
1987 - On 29 November a South Korean Airline passenger plane and all 115 people aboard disappear without trace over the Andaman Sea off the coast of Burma. The disappearance is attributed to the on-board explosion of a bomb planted by two North Korean agents, who are later arrested, tried and convicted. According to one of the agents, Kim Jong Il ordered the bombing.
In North Korea evidence begins to emerge that the country is slipping towards famine. The regime ignores the signs.
1988 - The US Secretary of State James A. Baker III declares "that North Korea is a country which has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism."
On 20 January the State Department places the North on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
1989 - Kim Il Sung secretly announces that the North has the technology to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium.
1990s - Early in the decade there are reports that food shortages in the North are leading to rioting and the imposition of food rationing. It is estimated that North Korea is about one million tonnes short of grain self-sufficiency each year.
Reports also indicate that the country's industrial sector is in serious decline, with the output of iron, steel, cement and refined oil falling significantly. Factories are said to be closing or operating at well under capacity. Power is available for only a few hours a day, if at all, and the water delivery system ceases to operate.
Nevertheless, North Korea maintains one of the largest armies in the world, with military spending soaking up about 20-25% of gross national product under Kim Il Sung's 'Songun' (Army First) policy.
1992 - Kim Jong Il is appointed as supreme commander, or 'wnsu', of the army.
On 9 April the Ninth Supreme People's Assembly approves a revised constitution that elevates Kim Il Sung's Juche ideology to the centre of North Korean politics. Kim Il Sung is also given the title of 'Generalisimo of the DPRK'.
However, the impression of unity is breached when a coup plot by generals seeking economic reform is exposed. Two of the coup leaders are captured and executed. Others involved in the plot escape to Russia. Over the following years members of the military will plan several other abortive attempts at insurrection.
1993 - In April, Kim Il Sung turns over the chairmanship of the National Defence Commission to Kim Jong Il.
In December the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) announces that North Korea has probably built at least one nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that North Korea could have enough plutonium for one or two bombs.
Kim Il Sung denies that North Korea has been or is developing nuclear weapons.
1994 - Former US President Jimmy Carter visits North Korea on 15-18 June and meets with Kim Il Sung. Following the visit the US agrees to high-level talks between the two nations and schedules a meeting for 8 July in Geneva. In return North Korea agrees to "freeze" its nuclear program.
On 28 June, North and South Korea agree to hold a leaders summit in Pyongyang on 25-27 July. It will be the first meeting of its type since the division of the peninsula in 1945.
However, Kim Il Sung dies suddenly in his country villa on 8 July from a heart attack "owing to heavy mental strains." All the scheduled talks are suspended. His state funeral is held on 18 July and is followed by a three-year-long period of national mourning.
It is later reported that Kim's death occurred during a heated argument with Kim Jong Il.
Suspicions over the circumstances of Kim's death are heightened by reports that Kim Jong Il refused to allow doctors to enter his father's room for an extended period. Further questions are raised by the crash of two out of the five helicopters assigned to fly Kim's corpse to Pyongyang, killing the doctors and bodyguards on board, and by the disappearance without trace of other functionaries.
Kim Jong Il is also reported to have concealed the depth of the country's economic crisis and the extent of its famine from his father, and to have opposed reunification with the South.
Kim Il Sung's death causes real sorrow among the thoroughly indoctrinated North Korean population. His embalmed body is laid to rest in the Kumsusan presidential palace in Pyongyang, which is converted at a cost of about US$900 million into a memorial for the dead dictator. In death he becomes the 'Eternal Leader'.
The talks between North Korea and the US take place in August 1994. A framework for resolving the nuclear issue is signed on 21 October. Under the framework North Korea agrees to permanently shut down nuclear facilities capable of enriching fuel rods to weapons-grade levels and cooperate with IAEA inspectors.
In return, the US agrees to ease economic sanctions and assist in replacing the North's outmoded nuclear reactors with modern light water systems designed to produce less weapons-grade plutonium. The US also agrees to finance yearly deliveries of 500,000 barrels of heavy fuel oil to the North until the new reactors are constructed. However, apart from the oil shipments, the aid is never provided.
1995 - Chronic food shortages are exacerbated by record floods in the summer months. Widespread famine follows. It is estimated that by the year 2000 between 600,000 and one million people die of starvation and famine-related illnesses. Some reports claim that as many as three million die.
In 2003 the World Food Program and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) report that chronic malnutrition has left 42% of North Korean children physically stunted and in danger of intellectual impairment.
According to James Morris, executive director of the World Food Program, "You look at the average seven-year-old North Korean boy and compare him to the average seven-year-old South Korean boy, he's 20 cm shorter and 10 kg lighter."
1997 - Kim Jong Il is named general secretary of the KWP in October. In September 1998 he is reconfirmed as chairman of the National Defence Commission, which is declared to be the "highest office of state." Kim is also supreme commander of the People's Armed Forces.
A new party slogan states that "Kim Il Sung is Kim Jong Il."
1998 - North Korea's constitution is amended to declare Kim Il Sung as "president for eternity."
However, discontent with the dead president's legacy hovers under the surface.
In the industrial city of Songrim, 40 km to the south of Pyongyang, the biggest labour demonstration in the country's history breaks out following the public execution of eight managers of the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Works. The demonstration is brutally suppressed by the military, with hundreds reported killed.
Meanwhile, the North declares its intention to continue to develop, test, deploy and sell ballistic missiles.
It is reported that, in return for information on missile technology, Pakistan has provided North Korea with plans for the construction of a nuclear weapon. Pakistan is also thought to have assisted North Korea to develop a uranium enrichment program.
North Korea also negotiates with the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq for the sale of missile technology, although the deal ultimately falls through. In November 2003 the 'Far Eastern Economic Review' reports that North Korea is negotiating to trade surface-to-surface missiles with Burma in return for heroin. North Korea is also assisting Burma to construct a nuclear reactor, the report states.
2000 - North Korea's foreign debt is now estimated at US$10-12 billion.
Kim Jong Il formally takes over as head of state of North Korea. From 13-15 June he meets with Kim Dae Jung, the president of South Korea, at an unprecedented leader's summit held in Pyongyang. The two governments agree "to resolve the question of reunification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people."
The US announces an easing of sanctions against North Korea on 19 June.
The renewed atmosphere of détente leads to the first officially sanctioned temporary reunions of families separated by the Korean War, the start of mail service between the two countries and the reopening of road and rail links that had been severed by the creation of the demilitarised zone.
2001 - In September diplomatic relations between North Korea and Japan resume for the first time since 1948, with Kim Jong Il and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signing a joint declaration at a summit meeting in Pyongyang.
During the summit, Kim Jong Il admits that North Korea had kidnapped 11 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, four of who were still alive.
2002 - Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, US President George W. Bush nominates North Korea as one of the members of an "axis of evil" that also includes Iran and Iraq.
In October, North Korea privately confesses to the US that it is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons development program using enriched uranium, in violation of the 1994 agreement between the two countries.
When the US announces that it will stop financing the deliveries of heavy fuel oil also covered by the agreement, North Korea declares that the agreement has collapsed. The North later denies that it ever admitted having a uranium enrichment program.
In December, IAEA inspectors are ejected from the country and their monitoring equipment dismantled.
2003 - On 10 January, North Korea withdraws from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty because it is "most seriously threatened" by the US. On 18 February the North threatens to abandon the 1953 armistice if the US imposes trade sanctions. In April the North openly claims to have nuclear weapons.
In August a CIA assessment finds that "North Korea has produced one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons and has validated the designs without conducting yield-producing nuclear tests."
2004 - On 27 September, North Korea's deputy foreign minister tells the UN General Assembly that his country has reprocessed 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and transformed them into arms.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong Il acts to consolidate his leadership and ensure that he is succeeded by one of his sons. A potential rival, Kim's brother-in-law Chang Song Taek, is purged from the government and a new criminal code is introduced. The new code increases penalties for those caught criticising the government or importing banned books, videos or music. It also imposes the death sentence or life imprisonment in a labour camp on anyone found guilty of organising an insurgency.
2005 - On 10 February the North publicly acknowledges for the first time that is possesses nuclear weapons, saying, "We ... have manufactured nukes for self-defence to cope with the Bush administration's evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the (North)."
Six-party talks between the North, the South, China, Japan, Russia and the US to try to reach an agreement for nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula begin on 26 July.
The talks will stumble on over the coming years, with apparent breakthroughs inevitably being scuttled by the North.
2006 - On 9 October the North announces that it has successfully detonated a nuclear device. The UN adopts limited, weapons-related sanctions against the regime on 14 October.
2008 - At the start of September news that Kim Jong Il has suffered a stroke leaks out from the North. It is reported that, while he has undergone brain surgery and may be partially paralysed on his left side, his condition is not life-threatening and he remains in control of the regime.
In December, Francois-Xavier Roux, a French neurosurgeon who travelled to North Korea to treat Kim Jong Il confirms the rumour. "Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke but did not undergo an operation. He is now better," Roux says.
2009 - Kim reemerges into public view at the end of January, meeting with a senior Chinese envoy. He is reported to appear "thinner but otherwise healthy."
Kim is reconfirmed as chairman of the National Defence Commission on 9 April.
On 25 May the North claims to have successfully conducted a second underground nuclear test. Seismic monitoring appears to confirm the claim.
Reports also indicate that the North has accumulated a stockpile of biological and chemical weapons.
2010 - In June 'Foreign Policy' magazine names Kim Jong Il as the world's worst dictator, describing him as a "personality-cult-cultivating isolationist with a taste for fine French cognac."
'Foreign Policy' ranks Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe as the world's second worst dictator. Burma's Than Shwe is ranked number three.
In November it is revealed that the North has built a new uranium enrichment plant.
2011 - Kim Jong Il dies from a suspected heart attack on Saturday, 17 December. The country goes into an 11-day period of official mourning, culminating in a state funeral on 28 December. A national memorial service is held the following day. Kim is succeeded by his third and youngest son, Kim Jong Un.
2012 - On 17 December, a year after his death, Kim Jong Il's embalmed body is put on display in the Kumsusan mausoleum in Pyongyang. Kim's corpse rests a few floors below that of his father, Kim Il Sung.
Comment: According to the official website of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, "Pyongyang and today's North Korea is a socialist paradise where all the people have a life with dignity, without poverty and more than ever demonstrate the invincibility and union of the masses around the Leader."
This is a "socialist paradise" where at 7 a.m. each morning all across the country loudspeakers broadcast the song '10 Million Human Bombs for Kim Il Sung'.
This is a "paradise" subject to periodic famine, where the level of malnutrition has caused the army to lower the minimum height for conscripts.
This is a "paradise" where power blackouts are common, as are diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera, and where its citizens can be imprisoned for singing a song.
The CIA estimates that Kim Il Jong had over US$4 billion stashed away in Swiss bank accounts, plundered from a gold mine in North Korea. He had six villas in Europe, one in Russia and one in China. He lived a lavish, though insular, lifestyle.
In the "paradise" created by his father, with more than a little bit of help from his friends, all people are equal, but some people are more equal than others, to paraphrase the famous quote in George Orwell's 'Animal Farm'.
It is a "paradise" where "war is peace", "freedom is slavery", "ignorance is strength", to again quote Orwell, this time from '1984'.
It is a "paradise" where 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work Makes You Free), as the Nazis wrote over the gates of their death camps during the Second World War.
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