The sons of Korean freedom fighters spearheaded the campaign to anoint North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's son Jung-un as his father's successor, a source claimed Thursday. The source said Choe Ryong-hae, O Kum-chol and O Il-jong initiated the campaign to make Kim Jung-un the successor in a secret meeting with the two Kims in mid June.
Choe Ryong-hae (60) is the son of Choe Hyon, an erstwhile fighter against the Japanese occupation of Korea and later minister of the People's Armed Forces. O Kum-chol (63) is the son of O Baek-yong, a one-time head of state security. O Il-jong (66) is the son of O Jin-u, a former People's Armed Forces minister. Their fathers were guerrillas together, and they supported Kim Jong-il in the 1970s, when he was in competition with his uncle Kim Yong-ju to succeed North Korea founder Kim Il-sung.
Some two weeks after the secret meeting, the North on June 26 announced the first extraordinary party congress in 44 years. "If the secret meeting really took place, then the plan to formally appoint Kim Jong-un as the heir could have been hatched there," a South Korean security official speculated.
Kim Jong-il could use their support. If his rival Kim Yong-ju was a problem in the 1970s, there are also hurdles to his son's appointment since Jong-un is only 27 and has no leadership experience. Some North Koreans expected a collective leadership to take over until Kim Jong-un could cement his hold on power, but when the sons of these revered freedom fighters came on side, the current abruptly shifted to backing for Kim Jong-un as the next leader, the source said.
All three have key party posts. Choe Ryong-hae was the top secretary of the North Hwanghae provincial chapter of the Workers Party, a post corresponding to provincial governor, and has been made a four-star general. He is now a member of the party's powerful Central Military Commission.
Three-star general O Kum-chol was promoted to a member of the party's Central Committee at the recent extraordinary party congress. The committee's 124 members in effect lead North Korea, according to Baek Seung-joo of the Korean Institute for Defense Analyses said. A former Air Force commander, he is seen as a military expert. He delivered a speech at an Army, Navy and Air Force ceremony on Sept. 29 commemorating Kim Jong-il's re-appointment as party general secretary.
O Il-jong was promoted to military director-general of the party, a key post commanding over five million reserve forces. Commenting on the high profile of the sons of Kim Il-sung's old comrades-in-arms, some North Koreans believe they are emerging as the real power behind the future Kim Jong-un regime.
In the last week of September, when the party congress was in session, [North] Korean Central TV aired a two-part film titled "Legacy" which pays tribute to O Baek-ryong and Choe Hyon. "North Korea's intent in broadcasting such a film at every extraordinary party congress is evident," said a senior North Korean defector. "A loyalty race is underway generation after generation."