Mystery Shrouds N.Korea's Heir Apparent

      June 08, 2009 12:27

      "Even I don't know him that well." Thus Hwang Jang-yop, former secretary of the North Korean Worker's Party who defected to South Korea in 1997, after rumors emerged that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had chosen his third son Jong-un to succeed him. In North Korea, Hwang was a key figure in the regime with direct access to Kim. But Jong-un is shrouded in tremendous secrecy in North Korea.

      Kim Jong-il reportedly attended the elite Namsan Senior High School and other schools open only to the children of high-level officials and was able to forge ties with classmates. But there are very few people if any who say they have seen Jong-un, making it likely that he was schooled at home, according to one government intelligence official. There are accounts that Jong-un attended a private school in Bern, Switzerland in the 1990s with his older brother Jong-chol, 28, but this has not been verified.

      One high-ranking North Korean defector reportedly told acquaintances that Kang Sok-sung, the director of the Workers' Party history institute who died in 2001, personally taught Jong-un. Kang was an expert on North Korea's governing "Juche" ideology of self-reliance. Kang is also the older brother of North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju. The head of the history institute is in charge of researching the revolutionary saga of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il and supporting efforts to deify the two. One South Korean intelligence official says Kang taught Jong-un about the genealogy of the Kim family.

      Jong-un's personal life is equally secretive, but according to defectors, a few basketball players and boxers are said to have met him in person. One defector who was an athlete in North Korea said Jong-un's passion for basketball and boxing prompted his father to hold games at his own home behind closed doors.

      Another defector, also a former athlete, said top basketball players would often be chosen to take part in what was known as the "top event," which was to appear before Kim Jong-il. He said basketball players would stay at Kim's house for around 40 days and come back with Swiss gold watches and expensive electronics. He added that he heard from one athlete who was invited to a "top event" that there was an introduction prior to a game that the "dear leader" and the "respected mother" were entering the premises, followed by frenzied applause. Then Kim Jong-il entered, followed by Ko Yong-hui, his wife at the time, and two young boys. The names Jong-chol and Jong-un were heard in their conversations, the athlete said. All athletes who had gone to the Kim residence were required to sign an oath of secrecy and stamp it with all 10 of their finger prints.

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