N. Korean leader’s son is pro­moted

The mys­te­ri­ous Kim Jong Eun be­comes a four-star gen­eral but is not yet des­ig­nated as suc­ces­sor to his fa­ther.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Bar­bara Demick re­port­ing from WASHINGTON John M. Glionna re­port­ing from seoul bar­bara.demick @latimes.com john.glionna@latimes.com Ethan S. Kim in The Times’ Seoul Bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Twenty-some­thing Kim Jong Eun be­comes a four-star gen­eral but is not yet des­ig­nated as suc­ces­sor to his fa­ther, Kim Jong Il.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s youngest son has been named a four-star gen­eral, a pro­mo­tion that paved the way for his ad­vance in the ranks but stopped short of in­stalling him as next in line to run the im­pov­er­ished com­mu­nist coun­try.

On Mon­day, the eve of a rare congress of the rul­ing Work­ers’ Party in Py­ongyang, the of­fi­cial Korea Cen­tral News Agency an­nounced the ap­point­ment of Kim Jong Eun, a mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure who is be­lieved to be 27 years old and to have been ed­u­cated in Switzer­land.

The an­nounce­ment was the first time the North Korean regime has pub­licly ut­tered the name of the man heir ap­par­ent to the dy­nasty be­gun by his grand­fa­ther Kim Il Sung af­ter World War II. His pho­to­graph, re­sume and even the spell­ing of his name have been deemed state se­crets.

The de­ci­sion did not end spec­u­la­tion, how­ever, about the fu­ture. Kim Jong Il, 68, is be­lieved to be ill.

“This is just the first step in the suc­ces­sion process. As long as Kim Jong Il is alive, no­body knows how the other par­ties are go­ing to re­act,” said Gor­don Flake, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mau­reen and Mike Mans­field Foun­da­tion think tank.

U.S. As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State Kurt M. Camp­bell told re­porters in Washington that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was “watch­ing de­vel­op­ments care­fully” to in­ter­pret the sig­nif­i­cance of the an­nounce­ment.

Be­sides Kim Jong Eun, five oth­ers were named gen­er­als. Among them was Kim Ky­ong Hui, Kim Jong Il’s 64year-old sis­ter, who long has been con­sid­ered the leader’s clos­est fam­ily con­fi­dant. Her hus­band, Jang Song Taek, is a pow­er­ful fig­ure in his own right with ex­ten­sive fam­ily ties in the mil­i­tary. Jang was pro­moted in June to be vice chair­man of the Na­tional De­fense Com­mis­sion, which is headed by Kim Jong Il.

The ap­point­ment of Kim Jong Eun sug­gests that Kim Jong Il is try­ing to pre­vent in­ter­nal squab­bling.

In a syndi­cated col­umn this month, Yuriko Koike, a for­mer Ja­panese de­fense min­is­ter and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, sug­gested that Kim Jong Il might name his sis­ter to serve as a care­taker un­til his son is able to fully as­sume power.

“North Korea is a Con­fu­cian coun­try and peo­ple were concerned Kim Jong Eun was too young. They need to have the older face of Kim Ky­ong Hui next to his,” said Brent Choi, a long­time North Korea an­a­lyst who now re­ports for Voice of Amer­ica.

Kim Ky­ong Hui re­cently has been seen with her brother in pub­lic. “Kim Jong Il is very proud of her,” said Jang Sung-min, a for­mer South Korean law­maker who wrote a book on the North Korean leader. “And she is a very at­trac­tive per­son to the North Kore­ans, as well. She is like a strong man with a strong char­ac­ter.”

An­other of the newly pro­moted gen­er­als is Choe Ry­ong Hae, a top party of­fi­cial whose fa­ther was said to have fought to­gether with Kim Il Sung as an anti-Ja­panese guer­rilla.

Kim Jong Eun is be­lieved to be the youngest son of Kim Jong Il and his late con­sort, Ko Young Hee, a dancer who died in 2004. The young man and an older brother, Kim Jong Chol, at­tended

‘They told us all about the suc­ces­sor and we were very happy. Peo­ple be­lieve he will be smarter and will bring the coun­try new per­spec­tives.’

— Jeong Hee Ok,

North Korean woman

Swiss schools in the 1990s while pos­ing as chil­dren of North Korean di­plo­mats.

Af­ter three years in a Ger­man-speak­ing pub­lic school near Bern, Switzer­land, Kim Jong Eun re­turned to North Korea in 2000. He is be­lieved to have ob­tained two de­grees, one in physics at Kim Il Sung Uni­ver­sity and an­other at the Kim Il Sung Mil­i­tary Academy. Ac­cord­ing to de­fec­tor groups in Seoul, he has been in the mil­i­tary for about three years and may have pre­vi­ously held the rank of three-star gen­eral.

Al­though his name has not ap­peared in the news me­dia, North Kore­ans have been lec­tured in manda­tory ide­o­log­i­cal ses­sions for at least one year about the bril­liant “young gen­eral.”

“For the 21st cen­tury, we need a leader who is young and vi­brant and full of spirit.... The party hap­pens to have a young leader in mind who pos­sesses those kinds of qual­i­ties,” read one lec­ture, the con­tents of which was ob­tained by Korean In­tel­lec­tu­als Sol­i­dar­ity, a Seoul-based de­fec­tor group.

A 28-year-old North Korean woman liv­ing in China said peo­ple had been told that Kim Jong Eun had been liv­ing un­der cover for years as he was be­ing groomed for the lead­er­ship.

“They say he was three years in the mil­i­tary in the tough­est re­gion of the coun­try. He lived like ev­ery­body else; they didn’t have much food. He saw the sys­tem from the in­side and will help fix it,” said the woman, who gave her name as Su-jong, in­ter­viewed in the border city of Yanji this year.

Jeong Hee Ok, a woman in her 50s from Hamhung, North Korea, said she had first heard about Kim Jong Eun late last year in a party lec­ture.

“They told us all about the suc­ces­sor and we were very happy,” Jeong said. “Peo­ple be­lieve he will be smarter and will bring the coun­try new per­spec­tives.”

Many North Korean de­fec­tors be­lieve that Kim Jong Il had to slow down plans to name Kim Jong Eun his suc­ces­sor be­cause of crit­i­cism in­side and out.

Food short­ages, a botched cur­rency over­haul and diplo­matic iso­la­tion re­sult­ing from the coun­try’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram and the sink­ing of a South Korean mil­i­tary ship blamed on Py­ongyang have chipped away at the ab­so­lute obe­di­ence once com­manded by the regime.


Kenji Fu­ji­moto

The only con­firmed photo of the younger Kim is one of him as a child.

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