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North Korea Hails Late Kim's Son as 'Supreme Commander'

Kim Jong Un (File)

Kim Jong Un (File)

North Korea's state media on Saturday hailed Kim Jong Un as "supreme commander" of the military, in a sign that the Stalinist nation's second generational transition of power is going smoothly.

It is the first time that one of the North's official outlets has used the title supreme commander - a post held by his late father, Kim Jong Il - for the new leader, who is a four-star general, despite having little military experience and being in his late 20s.

South Korea announced Saturday it will send two groups to North Korea to pay respects to the country's former leader, who is said to have died one week ago.

A spokesman for South Korea's unification ministry, Choi Boh-seon, said no government officials will be traveling to Pyongyang. Relatives of the late former South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung and the late former president of the Hyundai Group, Chung Mong-Hun, will lead the South Korean delegations.

Also on Saturday, South Korean activists launched several huge balloons into the North carrying anti-regime leaflets and hundreds of pairs of winter socks that can be exchanged on the black market for food. In the past, Pyongyang has threatened to launch artillery at people floating contraband across the border.

North Korea proclaimed the beginning of the Kim Jong Un era on Thursday, describing him as the "successor" of the nation's revolutionary undertakings "and leader of its people."

An editorial in North Korea's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said Kim Jong Un should move forward on a path of self-reliance, while continuing the teachings of Kim Jong Il, whose death was announced this week. The paper urged the nation to rally behind the young leader and faithfully uphold his leadership.

Kim Jong Il's death after 17 years in power has sparked regional and Western concerns about the future of a country with a large army, a history of deep animosity toward its southern neighbor and broad nuclear ambitions.

Thursday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told political leaders the ongoing transition in North Korea holds potential for increased flexibility in Seoul's relations with Pyongyang.

Mr. Lee spoke as South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator arrived in Beijing for what South Korean media described as an emergency meeting focusing on regional stability. Ahead of the meeting, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said the envoys would discuss how to proceed on the North Korean nuclear issue.