Kim Jong Il’s son elevated to defense post

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) âÄî North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s youngest son has reportedly been named to the powerful National Defense Commission, an appointment analysts said Sunday indicates the 26-year-old is being groomed to take power. Kim Jong Un speaks English, likes basketball âÄî and is said to look and act just like his father. The reclusive, nuclear-armed communist nation’s next leader has been the focus of intense media speculation since Kim, 67, reportedly suffered a stroke last summer. Kim has ruled with absolute authority since his father, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994, leading to the communist world’s first hereditary power succession. Kim Jong Il has allowed no opposition, raising concerns about a power struggle if he dies suddenly without naming a successor. The eccentric leader has three known sons by two women. The oldest, Kim Jong Nam, was long considered his favorite âÄî until he tried to sneak into Japan using a fake Dominican passport and visit Tokyo’s Disney resort in 2001. The middle son, Kim Jong Chol, apparently has never been a favorite as a possible leader. Kim Jong Il’s former sushi chef says in a 2003 memoir that the leader considers his second son “girlish.” But talk about the youngest son has been growing. On Sunday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Kim Jong Un was assigned to a low-level post at the defense commission, the top government body, several days before his father was reappointed as the commission’s chairman on April 9. That reappointment marked the first major public appearance for the “Dear Leader” after his reported stroke. He was gaunter, grayer. Yonhap, citing unidentified sources it says are privy to North Korea affairs, said Kim Jong Un’s appointment means he has embarked on his training as successor and is expected to move step by step into the commission’s higher-level posts. South Korea’s Unification Ministry and the National Intelligence Service said they cannot confirm the report. Little is known about Kim Jong Un. The former sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto, says in his memoir that the son looks and acts just like his father. The teen studied at the International School of Bern in Switzerland, a short walk from the North Korean embassy, where classes are taught in English and many students come from diplomatic families. A recent article in the French-speaking weekly L’Hebdo described Kim Jong Un as a shy student enrolled under the name of Chol Pak, who enjoyed team sports like basketball, went skiing with friends on Fridays and admired Michael Jordan and Jean-Claude Van Damme. “He had a lot of friends among the children of American diplomats,” the school’s past director, David Gatley, told L’Hebdo. Kim Jong Il believes his youngest son has “charismatic leadership” like him, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the security think tank Sejong Institute. Cheong said Kim Jong Il’s health problems would speed up his naming an heir. But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, disagreed, saying Kim Jong Il is believed to be focusing more on consolidating his support base rather than appointing his successor, which would quickly erode his power and “worsen his health condition.” U.S. and its allies have pressured Kim’s communist regime for years to give up its nuclear and missile development programs. The standoff intensified after the North’s April 5 launch of a rocket it called a satellite. Regional powers argued it was a test of advanced missile technology. The U.N. condemned the launch. In response, the North pledged to boycott six-nation nuclear talks, expelled international nuclear monitors and reactivated its facilities to harvest plutonium for atomic weapons.