North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is believed to have named his youngest son to succeed him as head of the Stalinist nation, a South Korean news report said.
But another report said his eldest son was poised to step in as a figurehead, reflecting uncertainty over who will succeed the aging leader who turns 67 next month.
Rumors have swirled for years that Kim would nominate one of his three sons as a successor, following the tradition begun when he inherited the leadership from his father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung.
Reports that Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke in mid-August heightened speculation about a successor.
Kim will hand leadership over to his third son, Swiss-educated Kim Jong-un, who is in his mid-20s, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said on Thursday, citing an unidentified intelligence source. The powerful Workers’ Party was informed about a week ago, the report said.
Jong-un was born to Kim Jong-il’s late wife Ko Yong-hi. Ko had another son, Kim Jong-chol, but the father reportedly doesn’t favor the middle son as a possible leader.
The National Intelligence Service, Seoul’s top spy agency, said it could not confirm the report.
Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea specialist at the independent Sejong Institute, said the reported choice of Jong-un seemed to be a feasible scenario.
“Jong Un has leadership [qualities] and a desire to grab power,” Cheong said, adding that he thought he was the most qualified of the three sons to lead North Korea, now embroiled in an international standoff over its nuclear program and suffering from widespread food shortages.
Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, however, reported on Thursday on its Web site that Kim’s eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, is expected to serve as a nominal head of state, citing unnamed US intelligence sources.
Jong-nam, 38, had long been considered the favorite to succeed his father — until he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001, reportedly telling Japanese officials he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
His mother is the late actress Sung Hae-rim.
Yomiuri said Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law, has been assigned to look after the eldest son and is playing a central role in building a collective leadership system to back him up.
Kim Jong-ill took over as leader when his father died in 1994 in communism’s first hereditary power succession. He rules the country with absolute authority and has allowed no opposition, raising concerns about a power struggle if he dies suddenly without naming a successor.
North Korea has denied he was ever ill, and has sent photos and footage depicting the leader on a busy tour of farms, factories and military units. South Korean officials say they cannot confirm the undated reports.
A report Friday in the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Kim inspected silk mill and new chewing gum factory in the capital, Pyongyang.