Kim’s sons vie for N.K. leadership

Korea Herald
Jin Dae-woong

North Korea appears to have embarked on preparations to pick a successor to leader Kim Jong-il from among his sons, as the communist leader’s health has declined recently, South Korean intelligence sources said yesterday.

According to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Kim Jong-il has been frequently accompanied by his two sons, Kim Jong-chul (26) and Kim Jong-woon (23) in his recent official activities, such as inspections of military bases and the so-called “on-site guidance” tours.

“Kim has yet to decide whom will be his successor, but he appears to have it in mind to select one of his two sons,” one source said. “He is now looking at who would be better for the position while they accompany him on military inspections.”

The open appearance of Kim’s second and third sons at the official events resumed with Kim’s worsening health, stemming from chronic diabetes and heart disease, the sources said. Due to health concerns, Kim, 65, halved official public activities between January and May this year, compared to the activities made in the same period last year, they said.

Jong-chul and Jong-woon, both born to deceased Ko Young-hee, the reclusive leader’s purported third wife, had frequently accompanied Kim on such activities, but halted their attendance after the death of Ko in 2004, they added.

The reemergence of Kim’s two sons indicates that North Korea is gearing up for a third generation of hereditary power succession, another source said.

In late 2005, Kim Jong-il banned any debate on a succession nomination in fear of a rapid erosion of his power in the Stalinist country.

Kim Jong-il took over from his father, Kim Il-sung in 1994. It was the North’s first hereditary power transfer.

The two “princes” have recently completed special military studies courses at Kim Il-sung Military University, one of North Korea’s top schools, named after the North Korean founder, he said. Jong-chul and Jong-woon respectively began the secret courses in 2001 and 2002, specializing in leadership and military theories based on Kim Jong-il’s military first policy, he said.

The special education was made in response to calls from Ko that the two sons should succeed the leadership of their father, he added.

Sources said that the moves are expected to reignite a fierce power struggle between Kim’s sons and their advocates over who would take over the helm of the communist country.

Before Kim issued a ban on any discussion in 2005 concerning his successor, it had been reported that Kim’s three sons, including the oldest, Kim Jong-nam, and their advocates had been engaged in a fierce power struggle in recent years.

Kim Jong-nam, 36, may stage a challenge against Jong-chul and Jong-woon in the pursuit of leadership, noting that oldest sons are generally favored in North Korea, where Confucian traditions that honor seniority are still dominant, they said.

Jong-nam is believed to have fallen out of his father’s favor when he was caught trying to enter Japan in 2001 on a forged passport. He was born to Kim’s first purported wife Sung Hae-rim, a former North Korean movie star, who died in 2002. The eldest son escaped an assassination attempt in Austria in 2004, which was suspected of being conducted by advocates of Jong-chul and Jung-woon.

Kim Jong-chol was widely favored to be first in line to succeed Kim Jong-il, but he has been said to suffer from a chronic overproduction of female hormones.

In addition, the emergence of Kim Jong-il’s purported new wife, Kim Ok, is also expected to add a new twist to the power struggle between the princes, sources said.

The 43-year-old former secretary of Kim Jong-il has frequently accompanied the reclusive leader Kim on his visits to army bases and industrial complexes, and sat with him when he met visiting foreign dignitaries.

Sources think that the young lady could be behind the leader’s ban on any succession debate because Kim’s early appointment of a successor may destabilize her status as first lady. She is building up her own political force with close affiliates in crucial posts within the regime, they said.


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