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2009/05/14 10:57 KST


Kim Jong-il's Heir Apparent Increasingly Visible in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The third and youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been increasingly visible at official events and handled major publicity stunts including a recent fireworks extravaganza, in an apparent bid to burnish his image as a successor, sources said on May 11.

   Kim Jong-un, who is believed to have been tapped in January as the isolated state's next leader, has been making efforts to elevate his reputation by organizing the April 15 fireworks show and initiating an economic reconstruction drive, called the "150-day Battle," according to the sources, who are privy to North Korean internal affairs.

   Kim Jong-il was designated as successor by his father and the country's founder, Kim Il-sung, in 1974, when he was 32. After his father's death in 1994, Kim took over the helm in the first-ever hereditary power transfer in a socialist state.

   Jong-un, believed to be 26 years old, has never appeared in North Korean media reports. He was born to Kim's third wife, the actress Ko Yong-hi, who died of cancer in 2004. He has an older brother, Jong-chol, and a stepbrother, Jong-nam, who is the leader's eldest son.

   Despite his absence from state media, Jong-un has recently accompanied his father on all public visits and is stepping up "revolutionary activities to assist and support the supreme leader," one of the sources said.

   Trying to emulate his father, Jong-un initiated the "150-day Battle," a nationwide movement to rebuild the country's sickly economy by maximizing its labor force, the sources said.

   The economic campaign, which started to appear in North Korean media reports this month, is a copy of the "70-day Battle" his father launched to rev up production amid the global oil price shock in 1974, they said.

   Jong-un was also behind the unusually massive fireworks display the country held to mark the 97th birthday of Kim Il-sung and celebrate its April 5 rocket launch, they said.

   Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea expert with the non-governmental Sejong Institute, said Jong-un, who holds no major post yet within the Workers' Party, appears to be attempting impressive feats ahead of his official nomination. He has a limited power base, unlike his father, who had built his reputation well before his designation by holding important party posts and purging factional members.

   "Kim Jong-il played a role in uniting the party around his father by discovering factional activities and purging pertinent officials," Cheong said. "But in the case of Jong-un, he is not believed to have held any important posts, and has to make the kind of tangible public accomplishments his father did before he was named as a successor."

   Sources earlier said that Jong-un has been appointed to a low-level "instructor" post at the National Defense Commission, the highest military decision-making body. The post, however, is too low to be seen as a sure sign he is to be the successor, Cheong said.


U.N. Official to Visit Resettlement Center for N.K. Defectors

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A U.N. official on refugees was to visit a resettlement center for North Korean defectors on May 11 as part of her research into South Korean programs for the newcomers, a government spokesperson in Seoul said.

   Erika Feller, U.S. assistant high commissioner for refugees, arrived in Seoul on May 10 to gather information about Seoul's defector policy and seek ways for South Korea and the U.N. to cooperate, said Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Unification.

   Feller visisted the state-run Hanawon center, south of Seoul, which provides mandatory 12-week resettlement training for all North Korean defectors who enter the country, and met with Chun Hae-sung, director general of the ministry's humanitarian cooperation bureau, Lee said.

   She was also scheduled to meet with officials from the foreign affairs and justice ministries before flying to Japan on May 12.

   More than 15,000 people from North Korea have settled in the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953, with about 3,000 more expected to come this year.


U.S. Reaffirms Plans to Engage N.K. Bilaterally on Denuclearization

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States said on May 8 it is ready to engage North Korea bilaterally to reinforce multinational talks on the communist state's denuclearization.

   The remarks by State Department spokesman Robert Wood followed North Korea's announcement that it would "never" rejoin the six-party talks, which it made in retaliation to the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its April 5 rocket launch.

   In a fresh threat, North Korea earlier in the day said it is useless to engage in dialogue with the U.S. due to its "hostile policy" toward the North, and reaffirmed its pledge to bolster its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent to a possible attack from the U.S. and its allies.

   Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative on North Korea, met with South Korean officials in Seoul on May 8.

   "They agreed that the six-party process remains the heart of the effort to achieve the goal of a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Wood said. "But the U.S. is prepared to deal with North Korea bilaterally in a way that reinforces the multilateral process."

   Bosworth had no plans to visit North Korea, the spokesman said.

   His trip is the second of its kind since February, when he was appointed as U.S. President Barack Obama's pointman on North Korea.

   While in Beijing and Seoul, Bosworth said he was ready to deal with North Korea both bilaterally and through the six-party talks.

   North Korea rebuffed a proposed trip to Pyongyang by Bosworth in early March amid allegations Pyongyang was upping the ante before engaging Washington bilaterally, angling for a breakthrough in the six-party talks, which have been spotty over the past six years.


Gates Dismisses North Korea's Provocations as Rhetoric

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on May 11 dismissed as rhetoric North Korea's recent threats to boycott the six-party talks and conduct further nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

   "I've been frankly surprised and disturbed by the kind of rhetoric coming out of North Korea in recent weeks," Gates said in a joint news conference with Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I think that North Korea has effectively isolated itself internationally, even greater than was the case before, by some of this rhetoric. But that's what I think it is: rhetoric."

   Gates' remarks run counter to those of Gary Samore, U.S. President Barack Obama's policy coordinator on weapons of mass destruction nonproliferation, who recently said that he believes North Korea will conduct another nuclear test as it has threatened to do.

   North Korea also vowed to launch more ballistic missiles unless the U.N. Security Council apologizes for slapping sanctions on three North Korean firms after the North's April 5 rocket launch.

   North Korea insists it was a satellite launch, but the U.S. and its allies saw it as a cover for a ballistic missile test.

   In its most recent threat, North Korea last week said that it is useless to engage in dialogue with the U.S. due to its "hostile policy" toward the North, and reaffirmed its pledge to bolster its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent to a possible attack from the U.S. and its allies.