NK: Kim's son as successor

SEOUL: Kim Jong Il's youngest son - a 26-year-old who reportedly enjoys skiing and studied English, German and French at a Swiss boarding school - was named North Korea's next leader in an announcement to top ruling party, government and military leaders, a South Korean lawmaker and newspapers said Tuesday, The announcement naming Kim Jong Un as leader was sent after the nation's May 25 nuclear test, the Hankook Ilbo newspaper reported, citing unnamed members of South Korea's parliamentary intelligence committee briefed by the spy agency.

The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report saying North Korea is teaching its people a song lauding the new "Commander Kim." The paper cited unidentified sources. The National Intelligence Service said it cannot confirm the reports.

The reports about a new leader - the nation's third - comes at a time of mounting tensions over North Korea's April 5 rocket launch and the May 25 underground nuclear test, and indications that the North may be preparing to test-fire a long-range missile. Global powers are discussing how to rein in Pyongyang for its nuclear defiance.

Analysts have suspected the saber-rattling is part of a campaign to build unity and support for a new leader to replace 67-year-old Kim Jong Il, who reportedly suffered a stroke last August. Kim has three sons but had not publicly named a successor.

After disappearing from the public eye for weeks last fall, Kim re-emerged to make a busy round of trips nationwide and made his first state appearance at the delayed first session of the country's new legislature April 12.

Grayer and thinner, Kim limped ever so slightly as he entered parliament and was somber as he presided over a session that provided few clues to his succession plans.

He was believed to want to name a successor in 2012 - the centenary of the birth of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung - and the regime undertook a massive campaign last year to gear the country up for the 100th anniversary celebrations.

The April 5 launch of what North Korea claimed was a successful bid to send a communications satellite into space was believed part of the campaign to show off the country's scientific advancements.

But in an abrupt shift in plans, the regime stepped up the pace and in early May launched a "150-day campaign" urging North Korea's to work harder to build up the country's economy.

Analyst Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute, a South Korean security think tank, called it a "politically driven" campaign to parade the North's achievements before its people in a bid to bolster national pride.

The five-month campaign is set to culminate in early October, about the time of the anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. He said North Korea could hold a national convention then - its first in nearly 30 years - to formally announce Kim's successor.

"I think the campaign is aimed at building up achievements that the successor can later claim credit for," he said last week.

Cheong noted that in the 1970s, Kim Il Sung arranged for his son to take credit for a "70-day battle" before he was tapped in 1974 as his father's successor. The succession decision was made public at a 1980 convention, and Kim Jong Il formally assumed leadership upon his father's death in 1994.

He said Kim's health has forced the leader to move quickly to appoint a successor. Regional powers fear that Kim's sudden death without naming an heir could lead to a power struggle or vacuum that could spark chaos in the impoverished country.

Most analysts believe the youngest son has the best chance of succeeding the authoritarian leader.

The eldest son, Jong Nam, 38, had long been considered the favorite to succeed his father - until he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001. He reportedly told Japanese officials he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Kim considers the middle son, Jong Chol, too effeminate for the job, according to a Japanese sushi chef who said he served the Dear Leader for many years.

Little is known about Jong Un. But the chef, who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto, said in a 2003 memoir that Jong Un looks and acts just like his father and is the leader's favorite.

North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and the Cabinet formally were notified about Jong Un's appointment, the Hankook Ilbo said. Senior officials of key agencies have been given "ideological training" justifying the hereditary succession, the Dong-a Ilbo said.

The paper also carried the full text of a song called "Steps" that praises "our Commander Kim" taking strong steps in leading the country.

Opposition lawmaker Park Jie-won, an intelligence committee member, said during a radio interview Tuesday that he was briefed by the government on the North's announcement and the regime is "pledging its allegiance to Kim Jong Un," according to an interview transcript provided by his office.

Jong Un is known to have studied at the International School of Berne in Switzerland until 1998 under the pseudonym Pak Chol, learning to speak English, German and French, the Swiss weekly news magazine L'Hebdo reported earlier this year, citing classmates and school officials.

A classmate recalled him as timid and introverted but an avid skier and basketball player who was a big fan of the NBA star Michael Jordan. He was humble and friendly with the children of American diplomats, a former school director said. A car arrived every day after school to pick him up, the report said.

He is the son of the late Ko Yong Hi, a former dancer who died in 2004.