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N. Korean leader's estranged son visits Pyongyang twice this year

All Headlines 14:37 August 28, 2007

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) -- The oldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who is living abroad after reportedly falling out of favor with his father due to his wayward lifestyle, has visited Pyongyang twice this year, informed sources said Tuesday.

But they downplayed the possibility that Kim Jong-nam, 36, has started working for North Korea's ruling party, an indication of vying for succession to the North Korean leader.

Jong-nam humiliated his father and the country when he was expelled from Japan in 2001 while trying to enter the country on a forged passport. The junior Kim at that time told Japanese police that he was trying to visit an amusement park outside Tokyo.

"We think that there is a slim chance that Kim Jong-nam is working for the ruling Workers' Party after he returned to Pyongyang. As he is staying in China, he has visited Pyongyang several times a year since 2003," an intelligence source said, asking to remain anonymous. The source added Kim visited Pyongyang in April and July this year.

Kim Jong-il is known to have three sons from two relationships.

Jong-nam's birth resulted from his father's unofficial relationship with Sung Hae-rim, an actress who died in Moscow several years ago.

The leader is reported to have taken second son Jong-chul, 25, and third son Jong-un, 23, on a series of military inspections to ascertain who performed best. The mother of Jong-chol and Jong-un is Ko Yong-hi, who died of heart failure in 2004.

"Currently, there is no succession system in North Korea. His three sons, who have no official job titles, all have opportunities, but Ko's two sons have an advantage as they accompany Kim to field inspections," a North Korea expert said, asking to remain anonymous.

The North Korean leader, who turned 65 this year, succeeded the communist country's founding leader Kim Il-sung in 1994 after the elder Kim died of heart failure, the first hereditary succession of power in a communist state. He was officially named the successor of Kim Il-sung in 1980 even though he had been known as the heir apparent since 1974.

He officially took over his father's position in 1997 and since then has ruled the country under a military-first policy. Although there has been speculation about his possible health problems, including diabetes and kidney and liver problems, the North Korean leader has yet to name a successor, at least in public.

Some observers suggest that after Kim's death, a collective leadership of military figures might take charge, ending the Kim family's dynastic power over the impoverished communist state and paving the way for it to abandon its nuclear weapons program and open up to the rest of the world.

ssj@yna.co.kr
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