North Korea, known officially as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is one of the most isolated countries in the world. The country's communist ideology is based on the concept of "juche," or self-reliance.
Located in Eastern Asia, bordering the Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan, the country is wedged between China and South Korea and is slightly smaller than the state of Mississippi.
The communist state is a one-man dictatorship, ruled by Kim Jong Il. Kim is the son of Kim Il-Sung who ruled from 1948 until his death on July 8, 1994.
Capital city: Pyongyang
Population: 23 million
Demographics: North Korea's population is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogenous in the world, with only very small Chinese and Japanese communities.
Getting into the country -- even from Beijing, the country's closest ally -- remains difficult, with only two flights a week.
The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents the United States as consular protecting power.
The country is in the midst of a major food crisis.
Religion: All religion has been effectively prohibited since the 1950s
Following World War II, Korea was split in two, with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored Communist domination. After failing in the Korean War (1950-53) to conquer the U.S.-backed republic in the southern portion by force, President Kim Il-Sung adopted a policy of "self-reliance" and isolation for North Korea.
DMZ: Military Demarcation Line within a two-mile-wide demilitarized zone which separates North from South Korea that's been in place since 1953.
The economy is one of the world's most centrally planned and isolated. In 2004, heightened political tensions with key donor countries and general donor fatigue threatened the flow of desperately needed food aid and fuel aid. Firm political control remains the communist government's overriding concern.
China seeks to stem illegal migration of tens of thousands of North Koreans escaping famine, economic privation and political oppression.
Since the mid-1990s, North Korea has relied heavily on international food aid to feed its population while continuing to expend resources to maintain an army of about 1 million.
Nuclear Aspirations: In December 2002, following revelations it was pursuing a nuclear weapons program based on a violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States to freeze and ultimately dismantle its existing plutonium-based program, North Korea expelled monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. In January 2003, North Korea withdrew from the international Non-Proliferation Treaty. In mid-2003, Pyongyang announced it had completed the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods to extract weapons-grade plutonium and was developing a "nuclear deterrent." From August 2003 to June 2004, North Korea participated in six-party talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States to resolve the stalemate over its nuclear programs. North Korea broke off the talks last year. Some analysts believe the United States should impose sanctions because of the stalled negotiations.
Source: CIA World Fact Book