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North Korea's Next Leader

Bubble Boy Mark II
by Lee Jong-Heon
UPI Correspondent
Seoul (UPI) Feb. 1, 2007
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's eldest son Kim Jong Nam seems out of contention to succeed his father as he has remained in exile for the past several years. Kim Jong Nam, 35, was said to be the first in line to inherit power from his father because the first son is generally favored in North Korea, where Confucian traditions that honor seniority still hold sway.

But the junior Kim's appearances out of North Korea raised doubts about his status. He appears to be unable to return his homeland since leaving in 2001.

As late as this week, Kim was spotted in Macau, according to Japanese media reports. The Yomiuri Shimbun quoted Kim as saying he came alone to Macau on vacation, with a photo that allegedly showed the pudgy Kim wearing sunglasses outside a building in the former Portuguese enclave that returned to Chinese rule in 1999.

Citing diplomatic sources, the daily said Kim was also planning to travel to Hong Kong to address a dispute over his bank account there. Japan's Kyodo news agency also said he has been frequently traveling to Macau.

South Korean officials said they believe the man in the photo is Kim Jong Nam, who has also been spotted in Beijing and Tokyo.

According to the South China Morning Post on Thursday, the junior has been living the high life in Macau for most of the past three years. He and his family have made their home on the territory's leafy Coloane Island, and he has been spotted dining in fine restaurants and gambling in the plush casinos, it said.

"He's been on the move for much of the decade, but Macau is the place he calls home now," a source was quoted as saying in the Hong Kong-based newspaper. "He's been free to stay as long as he lives quietly. He believes he is among friends and he appears to be happy."

According to sources in Seoul, Kim has stayed mainly in China since he left North Korea in the aftermath of a power struggle with his stepmother around 2000.

The junior Kim was arrested on arrival at an airport near Tokyo in May 2001 for attempting to enter Japan with a forged Dominican passport, accompanied by a woman and a child, who were believed to be his wife and son. The incident caused Pyongyang severe diplomatic embarrassment.

Kim was again spotted at the international arrivals hall in Beijing airport on Sept. 25, 2004. He arrived alone at the airport, nobody received him and he had come from an unknown third country, known only not to have been from North Korea. He also appeared in a restaurant in Beijing in January last year.

The sources said the junior Kim has not been allowed by his father to return to North Korea and has been lost in a power struggle with his two younger half-brothers. His maverick lifestyle has also caused himself to lose his father's favor.

The younger Kim's overseas trips with no bodyguards and officials indicate that he is out of contention to assume North Korea's leadership, a source said. "It is unthinkable for a possible crown prince to travel overseas alone especially at a time when tensions are running high in the wake of the North's nuclear and missile tests," he said.

Kim Jong Nam is the son of Kim Jong Il's second wife, Song Hae Rim, who died in a Moscow hospital in 2002.

Many analysts in Seoul say Kim Jong Nam's 25-year-old half-brother, Kim Jong Chol, is most likely to succeed his father's power because his mother Ko Yong Hi has been glorified in the North. Ko, who died of a heart attack in June 2004, has been described as "respected mother" and "great woman," an apparent move to pave the way for father-to-son power inheritance.

The North made a similar campaign to idolize Kim Jong Il's mother, Kim Jong Suk, when he was earmarked to inherit the power of his father and national founder Kim Il Sung.

In anther indication of possible preparation for power succession, some North Korean officials were seen wearing lapel pins depicting Kim Jong Chol, according to the sources.

But some analysts say Kim Jong Nam still has chances of succeeding his father because he is the eldest son. North Korea is a deeply Confucian country that honors seniority, said Kim Young-soo, a North Korea specialist at Seoul's Sogang University.

Seoul's intelligence officials also said Jong Nam has won backing by the Chinese leadership to be North's next leader.

Source: United Press International

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Washington (AFP) Feb 1, 2007
North Korea could agree to implement a "first tranche" of measures to end its nuclear weapons program during the upcoming round of six-nation talks in Beijing next week, the top US negotiator said Thursday. "What we hope to do in this round is to implement a first tranche of measures, which will be the beginning of the full implementation of the September (2005) agreement leading to full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters.

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