Who's Riding on Kim Jong-il's Armored Train This Time?

      August 27, 2010 13:10

      In this undated photo released Thursday by the North Korean Central TV, Jang Song-taek in a circle accompanies the North's leader Kim Jong-il during his recent inspection trip to a plant in Pyongyang. /Reuters-Newsis

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is in China, but who went with him on his special armored train is a matter of speculation. He may have taken those officials who accompanied him to an inspection tour to a factory in Pyongyang right before he left for Beijing, as he often does.

      On his last trip in May he took officials who attended a concert celebrating Labor Day with him right before the trip. They were Kim Yong-chun, the minister of the People's Armed Forces, Choe Tae-bok and Kim Ki-nam, both secretaries of the Workers' Party Central Committee, his brother–in-law Jang Song-taek, United Front Department director Kim Yang-gon and First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju.

      The North's official Korean Central News Agency on Thursday reported on the inspection trip Kim made.

      A Unification Ministry official said, "Since North Korea usually reports so-called on-the-spot guidance tours by Kim one or two days later, it is likely that Kim made the latest tour on Tuesday or Wednesday before leaving for China." 

      Those who accompanied him on the inspection trip this time are believed to include Kim's younger sister Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang, Kim Ki-nam, and party secretaries Tae Jong-su and Hong Sok-hyong.

      His sister and her husband are thought to be the patrons of the leader's son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un, and they have been accompanying the ailing leader to almost all his field trips since December last year.

      Tae Jong-su and Hong Sok-hyong had been in charge of the Workers' Party in South and North Hamgyong provinces until they were promoted to the Central Committee in June and July. Tae is thought to be the successor to Pak Nam-gi, the former director of the party's planning and financial department who was reportedly executed for the botched currency reform late last year.

      An intelligence source said  if they all visited North Korean founder Kim Il-sung's old school in China, then the objective of the trip is likely to consolidate Kim Jong-un's position as the designated heir. Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University, said, "The whole family seems to have been mobilized for the event, which is Kim Jong-il's attempt to establish the legitimacy of his son who is about to make his political debut." 

      Kim and son often visit important landmarks in Kim Il-sung's revolutionary career, so this could be a pilgrimage before Kim Jong-un takes center stage at an extraordinary party congress in two weeks.

      Kim Yong-il, who is the main channel in Sino-North Korean relations, Hyon Chol-hae, who also accompanies Kim Jong-il all the time, and National Defense Commission director Ri Myong-su are also likely to be on the train.

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