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Fri, Oct 01, 2010
The Korea Herald/Asia News Network
North Korea releases photo of heir

The third son of the N.Korean dictator, who has become noticeably thinner since suffering a stroke two years ago, was also made a four-star general, a major appointment that will empower the Swiss-educated heir to eventually take the reins of power after his ailing father.

The photograph made public Thursday was taken during the party convention, according to Rodong Sinmun, with the heir-apparent posing alongside his father and other party delegates.

This undated photo run by N.Korea's Rodong Sinmun on Thursday shows its leader Kim Jong-il (right, front row) posing with his third son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un (left, front row) and other newly elected leaders of the Workers' Party at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang.

Speculation began brewing months before the North opened its ruling party convention Tuesday, as it was the first major gathering since the 1980 meeting when Kim Jong-il was officially named the next leader of the communist state. Kim eventually took over the leadership in 1994 after the death of his father, N.Korean founder Kim Il-sung.

Given the weakening health of its incumbent leader, the world's last remaining totalitarian communist state with a population of 24 million will soon start the father-to-son transfer of power, observers have said.

Kim Jong-un, who spent his teens at a Swiss school, resembles his father the most among the three sons, according to Japanese chef Kenji Fujimoto, who formerly served the Kims and later told the outside world about their habits through a memoir.

A student who reportedly attended the same school as Kim Jong-un in Switzerland, recalled him as a "quiet fellow" who did not like to go outside after sunset, but was highly competitive during sports games, US broadcaster CNN reported.

N.Korea's heir apparent Kim Jong-un seen at the ruling Workers' Party convention on Tuesday.

N.Korea has never, until Thursday, unveiled a grown-up portrait of its purported next leader. South Korean intelligence officials weren't even sure how to spell his name properly until last year.

Political changes in North Korea are taking place as tensions between the two Koreas appear to be subsiding with the rivals, who are technically still at war, holding their first military talks in nearly two years earlier Thursday.

North Korea has also been showing a renewed willingness to join the stalled six-nation talks over its denuclearisation, an attitude analysts say the country will likely maintain throughout its leadership change. The North had walked away at the end of 2008 from the talks it had with the U., South Korea, Japan, China and Russia since 2003.

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