The Losers in N.Korea's Ruling Family

      February 17, 2011 12:26

      The members of North Korea's first family who have been sidelined in the race for the leadership appear to be sharing the same fate, spending their lives in slightly unmoored luxury and sometimes behaving erratically.

      ◆ Kim Jong-il's Sons

      Kim Jong-il's third son Jong-un has won the battle for the succession. At first the eldest son Jong-nam looked likely to succeed Kim senior. "He's the eldest son and had the support of Kim Jong-il's sister Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang Song-taek, making him the most likely candidate until the late 1990s," a South Korean official recalls. In 1998 and 2003, Jong-nam was included in a list of representatives to North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly.

      But in 2001 Jong-nam was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport and fell out of favor. There is also speculation that the fact that his mother Song Hye-rim was the North Korean leader's mistress, not his wife, and that got in the way. Song, a former actress, suffered from depression when Kim Jong-il fell head-over-heels in love with dancer Ko Yong-hui in the mid-1970s and died in Moscow in 2002. When Sung and Jong-nam disappeared from Pyongyang, Ko and her two sons Jong-chol and Jong-un became the focus of attention.

      "Until Ko died in 2004, she probably supported her eldest son Jong-chol as the successor, but Kim Jong-il thought Jong-chol was too effeminate," a source said.

      Kenji Fujimoto, Kim Jong-il's sushi chef from the late 1980s to 2001, wrote in a 2003 book, "Kim Jong-il preferred Jong-un, who resembled him, rather than Jong-chol, who looked a lot like Ko." The North Korean leader chose Jong-un to succeed him after suffering a massive stroke in August 2008. "If Jong-chol lost a basketball game, he would just laugh it off, but Jong-un would get all worked up and try to redeem himself," the source said. "Kim Jong-il probably prized Jong-un for his ambition."

      After Jong-un was picked as the successor, Jong-nam left North Korea and has been living in Macao and China, while Jong-chol is now traveling abroad going to pop concerts. Ri Je-gang, the first deputy director of the Workers Party's Organization and Guidance Department and strongest supporter of Jong-chol, died in a mysterious car accident in May last year.

      Jong-nam is believed to be living in effective exile and may even have been the target of assassination plots by Jong-un, but Jong-chol is considered to be safe from harm as long as he does not challenge Jong-un, according to South Korean government sources. But judging from the fact that Jong-chol is now traveling around the world buying luxury goods, some believe he may be walking down the same path as Jong-nam.

      ◆ Kim Jong-il's Brothers

      Kim Jong-il's brothers, who were his competitors for the succession to Kim Il-sung, also suffered the consequences. Kim's half brother Kim Pyong-il (57) lost the race in 1988 and left Pyongyang and went into exile as more or less permanent ambassador to Poland. He attended Kim Il-sung's funeral, but North Korean state-run TV deleted images of him and his mother. Kim Yong-il, Pyong-il's brother, died of liver cancer in Germany in May 2000, while his sister Kyong-jin lives with her husband in Vienna, where he serves as North Korean ambassador.

      Kim Yong-ju, the younger brother of former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung who also competed with Kim Jong-il for the throne, fled to Ryanggang Province in 1976 and was able to return to Pyongyang in 1993.

      South Korea's international security ambassador Nam Joo-hong said, "It's like in the old days when members of royal families who lose the power struggle are being exiled abroad."

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