News / Asia

North Korean Defectors Not Surprised by Promotion of Leader's Son

A South Korean man in Seoul watches a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as he appointed youngest son, Kim Jong Un - shown in portrait at top right - as an army general in an apparent sign he is being groomed as country's next leader,
A South Korean man in Seoul watches a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as he appointed youngest son, Kim Jong Un - shown in portrait at top right - as an army general in an apparent sign he is being groomed as country's next leader,



Many North Korean defectors living in South Korea said they are not surprised that a son of leader Kim Jong Il has been appointed to prominent party posts, a move thought to signal the start of a leadership succession.

They also said they think ordinary North Korean citizens do not care very much about who will lead their country.

Lee Sae Yul is a 13-year veteran of North Korea's army who defected to South Korea in 2008.  Lee uses cell phones smuggled from China to keep in contact with family and friends back in North Korea.  He said most of the people he speaks with did not even know Kim Jong Un's name before this week, but they already knew about him from a song.

Lee said there is a propaganda song about Kim Jung Un called "Footsteps," which has been widely spread around to the public.  But his name was not mentioned, he was just called the 'Young General.'

On Tuesday, North Korean state media announced that Kim Jung Un, who is thought to be about 27-years-old, had been made a four-star general.  Several hours later, a meeting of the North's ruling Workers' Party appointed the son of the nation's leader, Kim Jong Il, to prominent party posts.

North Korea experts said the younger Kim's promotions are intended to establish him as a successor to his 68-year-old father.

Lee said it is no surprise to him and other members of the North Korea Liberation Front, a Seoul organization of ex-soldiers, that Kim Jong Un is now a general.  Lee doubts that Kim - nor his aunt Kim Kyong Hui, who also was made a general - have any military experience.

Regardless, the North Korea Liberation Front's director, Kim Myoung Ha, said that based on Pyongyang's military first policy, any future leader must have military credentials, real or not.

Kim said if anyone wants a job in North Korea they must have two things, an education and military experience.  The whole nation is based on the military.  Kim said there is almost no way for North Korean soldiers to learn that their new general is a fraud.  But Kim said he does not think that most North Koreans are concerned with who their next ruler will be.

Park Gun Ha agrees. He was once a member of the Workers Party and now belongs to a defector organization involving former government officials.  Park said North Koreans lost hope when Kim Jong Il took over and the economy went bad.  He said they do not really care about who the successor is, they are much more concerned with how they will survive.

Park said if the government can not improve conditions in the impoverished country, it is unlikely North Koreans will give their support to Kim Jong Un when he does eventually take over.

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