North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has put his youngest son in charge of the nation’s spy agency as a prelude to handing him control of the communist regime, a news report said yesterday.
Kim visited the headquarters of the State Security Department in March, along with his 26-year-old son, Kim Jong-un, and told agency leaders to “uphold” his third son as head of the department, South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unnamed source.
Kim also told department leaders to “safeguard comrade Kim Jong-un with [your] lives as you did for me in the past,” and gave them five foreign-made cars, each worth some US$80,000, as gifts, the mass-market daily said.
It said Kim visited a college that educates agents last month and made similar remarks there.
Pyongyang’s State Security Department is the backbone of Kim’s harsh rule over the totalitarian nation. It keeps a close watch over government agencies, the military and ordinary people for any signs of dissent. It also engages in spy missions abroad.
The move to put Kim Jong-un in charge of the agency illustrates the elder Kim’s concern about any possible backlash that the father-to-son succession could prompt, the Dong-a Ilbo said.
It said the North plans to bolster the agency by putting the country’s 100,000-strong border-guarding force under its arm. The force is now under the defense ministry.
The paper also said the younger Kim oversaw the handling of two US journalists detained in March while on a reporting trip to the China-North Korea border.
The reporters were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor earlier this month for illegal border crossing and hostile acts.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that Mats Foyer, Sweden’s ambassador in North Korea, visited the reporters — Euna Lee and Laura Ling (凌志美) — in Pyongyang on Tuesday.
Foyer has been in “constant contact” with the North, pressing for access, Kelly said. He said the US was “pursuing many different avenues” to secure their release, but he would not elaborate.
South Korea’s main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said it could not confirm the Dong-a Ilbo report.