North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un may have led an isolated, unhappy childhood, despite inheriting absolute control over the elusive state, his father's former bodyguard has revealed.
From 1978 to 1988, Lee Young Guk reportedly had insider access to one of the world's most secretive ruling families, serving as personal bodyguard to Kim Jong Il before he took power in 1994. After one failed attempt and a five-year stay in a prison camp, Lee said he successfully defected sometime around 2000, and since then has revealed some unique perspectives on all three generations of North Korea's ruling dynasty, including its latest and youngest leader.
"He was stressed and had no one to play with his own age," Lee told ABC News in an interview conducted in October and released Friday. "There were only adults, who educated and played with him."
"His personality was explosive" he added. "When he was angry, he acted without considering the consequences."
Kim Jong Un was believed to have been born on January 7, 1984, his actual birth date remained unclear and Lee claimed to have observed him "many times" when he was 6 or 7, according to the ABC News report. While on the surface, Kim's public image appeared stoic and even warm as compared to his father and grandfather before him, Lee said the millennial leader who now commands a nuclear arsenal and missiles said capable of striking the U.S. was prone to fits of rage as a young boy.
"He was quick-tempered," Lee told ABC News. "He doesn’t care about what others think. He doesn’t feel sorry for other people. He does whatever he wants. He would yell at the ladies. He was like that."
Lee also claimed that Kim Jong Un's older half-brother Kim Jong Nam was treated better than his younger sibling by their father. While Kim Jong Il was groomed for the North Korean throne under his own father's wings for decades, Kim Jong Un had relatively few years to prepare for the role. This has led to speculation that Kim Jong Nam was initially chosen for the part, but rejected after being caught trying to visit Disneyland Tokyo in 2001. He was killed last February in an apparent poisoning plot many believed to have been orchestrated by his half-brother.
Some experts, such as North Korean Leadership Watch blog founder Michael Madden, have disputed that Kim Jong Nam was favored for the country's leadership. Fellow 38 North project contributor James Person, research director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, explained that Kim Jong Il was also believed to have separated the boys in fear of his own father.
"Kim Jong Il kept his children apart. Reportedly, Kim Jong Un had never even met Kim Jong Nam, the elder half-brother executed in Malaysia last year," Person told Newsweek.
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"Part of the reason for the secrecy was to keep word of Kim Jong Il’s children with various consorts secret from his father, Kim Il Sung, who strongly disapproved of some of these relationships," he added.
Lee, whose escape from North Korea has been dated 1999, 2000 or 2002 in various outlets, told ABC News that Kim's isolation affected Kim's personality. As a leader, Kim has proved just as brutal or even more so than his predecessors by purging a number of older, elite officials. He also has opened himself up more to North Koreans, becoming the first leader to show off his wife and often engaging with lower-ranking personnel.
Neither of these traits has endeared him to President Donald Trump, who has increased U.S. military pressure and rolled out heavy sanctions against Kim's already struggling economy. The two men have resorted to nuclear threats and personal insults, but a burgeoning peace process initiated by Kim's New Year's speech has raised cautious hopes for a de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula, where a mid-20th century has never technically ended.
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