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(4th LD) N. Korean leader names his youngest son as general

All Headlines 10:30 September 28, 2010

(ATTN: CHANGES slug; ADDS comments from U.S., S. Korean officials; RECASTS lead, headline; UPDATES with quote; ADDS background, photo)
By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has made his third son a military general in the clearest signal yet that Kim Jong-un is on track to becoming the next leader of the nuclear-armed communist state.

The promotion was announced early Tuesday through the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), just hours before North Korea was to hold its biggest political convention in three decades.

At the conference drawing top Workers' Party delegates from across the nation, Kim Jong-un, whose name has never been mentioned in public and believed to be no older than 28, could be given other political posts, including one with the Politburo.

The KCNA report said Kim Kyoung-hui, the 64-year-old sister of Kim Jong-il, has also been promoted to a four-star general along with Choe Ryong-hae, a long-time aide to the Kim dynasty.

Kim Kyoung-hui, who oversees the country's light industries, has recently emerged as a possible caretaker for a hereditary power transfer because Kim Jong-un lacks experience and support.

Her name was mentioned before Kim Jong-un's in the KCNA dispatch.

Kim Jong-il, 68, is widely believed to have suffered a stroke in the summer of 2008 and since tried to make his third son his successor in what could be the communist world's first back-to-back father-to-son power transfer. Kim took over the regime when his father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung died in 1994.

Kim Jong-il officially became successor to his father in a Workers' Party gathering in 1980. In a directive numbered 0051, Kim named a total of 39 generals on Monday, the KCNA said. Six of them, including Kim Jong-un and Kim Kyoung-hui, were four-star generals.

"The appointment clears the way for Kim Jong-un to forge deeper ties with power elites," a South Korean Unification Ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said in a briefing in New York that his country is "watching developments in North Korea carefully."

"North Korea has now made it official," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said. "It is certain that Kim Jong-un will be named to a high-level Workers' Party post in the upcoming convention."

The KCNA said Kim Jong-il "firmly believes that the commanding members of the People's Army will continue to support the leadership of the party and complete the revolutionary exploit that was first begun in Mt. Paekdu," which symbolizes the Kim dynasty.

In a separate dispatch, the KCNA said Ri Yong-ho, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army, was promoted to the rank of vice marshal in a possible sweetener for the military class, whose support is crucial for Kim Jong-un to solidify his power.

Kim Jong-un was educated in Switzerland during his teens and is believed to resemble his father in appearance and personality. He has been shrouded in secrecy, and photos of him are extremely rare.

It remains to be seen whether the North's official television media will unveil Kim Jong-un in its footage of the Workers' Party convention on Tuesday.

"For one thing, blood is stressed much more in North Korea as something that defines character," Brian Myers, a professor of international studies at Dongseo University in Busan, said in comments e-mailed earlier. "In a culture where myth and charisma are so important, the masses need a hero figure in the 'glorious Paekdu tradition,' not a faceless bureaucrat or a group of army officers."


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