The Democratic People's Republic of Korea occupies the N part of the Korean Peninsula extending S from NE China. Mountains form the country's heart. The highest peak, Paektu-san (2,744m [9,003ft]) is on the N border. E of the mountains lie the E coastal plains, which are densely populated, as are the coastal plains to the W which contain the capital, Pyongyang. Another small highland region in the SE borders South Korea.
The coastal plains are mostly farmed, but some patches of chestnut, elm, and oak woodland survive on the hilltops. The mountains contain forests of such trees as cedar, fir, pine and spruce.
North Korea has a fairly severe climate, with bitterly cold winters. Winds blowing from across central Asia bring snow. Rivers freeze over and sea-ice may block harbours on the coast. In summer, moist winds from the oceans bring rain.
(For pre-1953 history see Korea and Korean War). North Korea was created in 1945, when the peninsula - a Japanese colony since 1910 - was divided in two. Soviet forces occupied the N, with US forces in the S. Soviet occupation led to a Communist government being established in 1948 under the leadership of Kim Il Sung.
The Korean War began in June 1950 when North Korean troops invaded the S. North Korea, aided by China and the Soviet Union, fought with South Korea, which was supported by troops from the United States and other UN members. The war ended in July 1953. An armistice was signed but no permanent peace treaty was agreed. The war caused great destruction and loss of life, with 1.6 million Communist troops killed, wounded or reported missing.
Between 1948 and his death in 1994, Kim Il Sung was a virtual dictator, ruling along similar lines to Stalin in the Soviet Union. After the war, North Korea adopted a hostile policy towards South Korea in pursuit of its aim of reunification. The situation was at times so tense as to warrant international concern.
The end of the Cold War in the late 1980s eased relations between N and S and they both joined the UN in 1991. The two countries made several agreements, including one in which they agreed not to use force against each other. However, the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union meant that North Korea remained isolated.
In 1993, North Korea triggered a new international crisis by announcing that it was withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, leading to suspicions that it was developing its own nuclear weapons. Upon his death in 1994, Kim Il Sung was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il.
In the early 2000s, uncertainty surrounding North Korea's nuclear capabilities cast unease across the entire region. Talks between North and South Korea continued in an attempt to normalize relations between them. In 2003 North Korea's relations with the United States deteriorated when the US accused the country of having a secret nuclear weapons programme. North Korea withdrew from international talks in early 2005 stating that it had already produced nuclear weapons. However in September North Korea agreed to give up all its nuclear activities and rejoin the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Despite reports of malnutrition North Korea formally requested an end to food aid in September 2005. It was thought that the government might be worried that taking more food aid might be perceived as a sign of weakness. In 2006 North Korea tested a nuclear weapon, to widespread international condemnation; the UN imposed economic sanctions.
North Korea's considerable resources include coal, copper, iron ore, lead, tin, tungsten and zinc. Under Communism, North Korea has concentrated on developing heavy, state-owned industries. Manufactures include chemicals, iron and steel, machinery, processed food and textiles. Agriculture employs about a third of the population and rice is the leading crop. Economic decline and mismanagement, aggravated by three successive crop failures caused by floods in 1995 and 1996 and a drought in 1997, led to famine on a large scale.
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