Kim Jong-Il picks successor

2009-06-02 12:56

Seoul - North Korea's ailing leader Kim Jong-Il has named his youngest son Jong-Un, a 26-year-old Swiss-educated basketball fan, as heir to his communist dynasty, reports said Tuesday.

Kim's third son has been described as a "chip off the old block" and is seen by experts as a potentially skilled and ruthless leader, like his father, who has kept his regime in place despite years of famine and economic decline.

There has been intense speculation about who would succeed North Korea's "Dear Leader" since he was reported to have suffered a stroke last August. Kim, now 67, is thought to have since recovered and resumed most of his duties.

South Korea's intelligence services have now received word that he has nominated Jong-Un to succeed him, a South Korean lawmaker briefed by intelligence officials said on Tuesday.

North Koreans were reported to already be making pledges of loyalty to Jong-Un and singing songs in praise of "General Kim".

Jong-Un was born to the leader's third wife, Ko Yong-Hi, who reportedly died of breast cancer in 2004.

He was educated at an international school in Switzerland and little is known for sure about his character, but some experts think he has some traits in common with his father.

'He has a take-charge personality'

"Jong-Un is known to have the potential to become a strong, ruthless leader. He has a take-charge personality," Cheong Seong-Chang, a North Korea expert at the Sejong Institute, told AFP.

Kim nominated Jong-Un as his successor some time between late last year and early this year and has been informing the party, military and the government of his choice, starting from the top echelons, Cheong said.

Kenji Fujimoto, a former Japanese sushi chef for the North Korean leader, described Jong-Un in a memoir as a "chip off the old block, a spitting image of his father in terms of face, body shape and personality".

The eldest son - Jong-Nam, 37, who was born to a different mother - apparently spoiled his prospects of becoming leader after being deported from Japan in 2001 for trying to enter the country with a forged passport.

Some analysts have seen second son Kim Jong-Chul as the favourite to take over. But Fujimoto said in the memoir that Kim thought of Jong-Chul as too feminine and unfit for leadership.

Reports of the nomination come with South Korean and US forces on the peninsula on heightened alert after the North threatened an attack when Seoul joined a US-led initiative to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Defied widespread predictions

Tensions have been running high since the North tested a nuclear bomb for the second time on May 25. It then launched a series of short-range missiles and renounced the truce that ended the Korean war in 1953.

Kim Jong-Il, who inherited power from his father Kim Il-Sung in the communist world's only dynastic succession, perpetuates his power using propaganda, prison camps, an all-pervading personality cult inherited from his father and a 1.2 million-strong army.

His own grooming for succession began in 1974 but Kim waited for three years after his father's death in 1994 before formally assuming power.

He has defied widespread predictions that his regime would collapse and shocked the world in 2006 with an initial test of a nuclear bomb.

The North has also drawn criticism for launching a several long-range rockets. The most recent, in April, was "fireworks aiming to celebrate the start of the creeping transition of power" to the son, Cheong said.

North Korea faces growing international pressure to renounce its nuclear arms but some experts say Kim Jong-Il's son may lack his father's sway over the military to persuade them to give up the pursuit of atomic bombs.

"If Kim Jong-Il is gone, the possibility of the North bargaining away its nuclear weapons would also disappear as no one but the current leader would be powerful enough to browbeat the military," Cheong said.