North Korea. Speculation about a planned change of faith at the centenary of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung’s birth in 2012 came to an abrupt end in mid-December, when his son Kim Jong Il died in a heart attack. The death sentence came as no surprise; “The dear leader” was 69 and sick. Still, from the closed communist state, images were wired out of mass-crying masses of people. In the outside world, judges were trying to predict what single-ruler Kim Jong Il’s apostasy would have for political consequences.
According to Countryaah official site, his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, was presented as “the great successor”. But he was not yet 30 and to just over a year earlier almost unknown both in and outside North Korea. Kim Jong Un’s lack of experience worried many – he took over a nuclear weapons state that seemed to be on a constant collision course with the outside world. Many observers assumed that the father-in-law, Jang Song Thaek, and the military leadership would rule behind the scenes.
Tensions in relations with South Korea and the United States had otherwise eased somewhat during the year after the bottom position reached in 2010, when a South Korean warship was lowered and North Korea shot down a South Korean island near the border. Several meetings were held to discuss the possibility of resuming the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, which was canceled in 2009, in connection with the country’s second nuclear weapons test. The two Korean foreign ministers met in July, for the first time in three years, and contacts were also made with US negotiators. However, no official talks on the nuclear program came to an end – North Korea demanded unconditional negotiations, while the United States first wanted a promise of disarmament.
At the beginning of the year, North Korea’s authorities appealed for increased food aid from the outside world. A cold winter, severe flooding and the world’s sanctions were reported to have exacerbated the constant food shortage. In April, the United Nations issued a US $ 200 million call for aid when, according to estimates, 6 million North Koreans were threatened with famine. Of particular concern was that nearly half of the children suffered from chronic malnutrition. New floods during the summer led to a lack of growth for the second year in a row. But six months after the UN appeal, only a third of the requested sum had been secured. Many in the outside world, not least the United States and South Korea, feared that much of the aid to North Korea would be seized by the military and not reach the needy.
The human rights organization Amnesty International released satellite images in May that were reported to show that North Korea’s political prisoner labor camp was under development. New testimonies also told of widespread famine and torture in the camps located in rugged mountain terrain. The authorities deny the existence of the camps.