SEOUL (AFP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has nominated his third son as successor and informed the ruling communist party leadership of his choice, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Thursday. The nomination of Kim Jong-Un, 24, was totally unexpected even among party leaders, Yonhap said, quoting “well-informed intelligence sources.”
The reclusive leader “delivered a directive that he has named Jong-Un as his successor to the leadership of the Workers’ Party around January 8,” a source was quoted as saying. Analysts have said previously Jong-Un is not in the running. “There are different theories but none has been confirmed,” a spokesman for Seoul’s National Intelligence Service said. The succession is a subject of intense interest, notably after South Korean and US officials said Kim Jong-Il, 66, suffered a stroke in mid-August. He is said to be recovering well and still in control of his nuclear-armed but impoverished nation. 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 but holds no key official posts. Senior party officials were surprised at the leader’s decision, Yonhap said, adding Kim might have pushed ahead due to anxiety about his health.
Jong-un, now 25, was born to Kim’s third wife, Ko Yong-hi, who died of breast cancer at the age of 51 in 2004. The youngest of Kim’s three sons, Jong-un was educated at the International School of Berne and is known to be a fan of NBA basketball. After his return to Pyongyang in his late teens, the North has kept him under a shroud of secrecy and very little is known about his character.
Jong-un refrained from socializing in Berne, spending most of his time outside of school at home, according to the wishes of his father, who did not want him to be influenced by the West. When he ate out, he was accompanied by Ri Chol, the North Korean ambassador to Switzerland, who is known to be the manager of Kim Jong-il’s secret funds, sources said.
The youngest son is said to be 175 centimeters tall and weigh about 90kg due to a lack of exercise. He reportedly already has high blood pressure and diabetes. Unlike his brothers, no images of him have been captured by foreign media.
Jong-un’s nomination was completely unexpected in the North, even among party leaders, multiple sources said.
Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for Seoul’s Unification Ministry that orchestrates inter-Korean policy, said, “Concerning the reported designation, we have not been able to confirm.”
Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea studies professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said the alleged designation was a sensitive issue but acknowledged it is feasible. The notion of a father-to-son takeover has become an inveterate part of the secretive state, he noted.