North Korea, a communist nation on the northern half of the Korean Peninsula, is one of the world's most closed societies. Following are facts about the country:

HISTORY: North Korea's political boundaries were established after the country's independence from Japan in 1945. As the Cold War heated up and the Soviet Union and United States fought for dominance in East Asia, the nation came under communist control as the Soviet Union occupied the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. divided the peninsula at the 38th parallel and occupied the southern half. The Soviets withdrew their troops in 1948 and the Americans followed one year later in 1949.

In 1947, the issue of the division of the Korean Peninsula was taken up by the United Nations at the request of the U.S.

In 1950, North Korea moved against South Korea in a military operation on the 38th parallel, beginning the Korean War. U.S. forces were initially drawn into the conflict by the U.N. In late 1950, Chinese forces entered the war, fighting on North Korea's side.

In July 1953, a truce was signed. As part of the cease-fire, a massively fortified demilitarized zone, or "DMZ," was established along the 38th parallel. It is estimated that more than 3 million Koreans were killed in the war, along with more than 54,000 U.S. soldiers.

The decades following the war saw North Korea turn into an increasingly isolated Stalinist regime, while capitalist South Korea undertook a slow and painful transition from military dictatorship to democracy.

The military standoff continued, with sporadic incidents between the two sides along the Demilitarized Zone and the coastal regions.

Kim Il Sung ruled North Korea until his death in 1994. His son, Kim Jong Il, took over as the leader of the reclusive nation.

NEIGHBORS: North Korea borders China in the north and South Korea in the south, beyond the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of the 38th parallel. The east of the country is on the Sea of Japan and the west is on the Yellow Sea.

POPULATION: The July 2003 estimated population was 22,466,481. The average population density is 180 persons per sq km (466 per sq mi). The population is largely concentrated in the lowland plains of the west.

The North Korean government, which perceives its population as too small in relation to that of South Korea, has called for accelerated population growth and encouraged large families.
North Korea's infant mortality rate, however, was severely affected by five years of famine, and there are doubts about the officially reported number.

The infant mortality rate in North Korea is 25.52 deaths per 1000 live births (2000 est.).

POLITICS: Kim Jong Il is chairman of the National Defense Commission and the highest authority in North Korea. He was re-elected to this position in September 2003. Kim Yong Nam is president of the Supreme People's Assembly and represents the state. Premier Pak Pong Chu is the head of government.

The major political party is the Korean Workers' Party, or KWP, and Kim Jong Il is the general secretary. Other parties are the Chondoist Chongu Party and the Social Democratic Party.

RELIGION: North Korea is traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, with some Christians and Chondogyo, which is the Religion of the Heavenly Way. However, religious activities are nonexistent and only some government-sponsored religious groups exist as part of government propaganda.

ECONOMY: With the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic in 1948, all industry was nationalized and agriculture was collectivized. Emphasis was put on heavy industry and agriculture. But the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a series of disastrous crop years have led to significant food and energy shortages.

Since 2003, tensions with donor countries have created a significant shortage of key aid to the nation.

The GDP per capita in North Korea is $1000.

Source: The CIA World Factbook