The suspected assassination of the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has helped thrust the secretive nation and its secretive first family back into the limelight. Kim Jong Nam died Feb. 13 en route to hospital after being attacked at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in the Malaysian capital. Authorities in the U.S. and South Korea suspect that he was poisoned by two women on orders from Pyongyang. Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Un are both sons of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who died in late 2011, but they had different mothers. Kim Jong Nam, the elder of the two, whose mother was an actress named Song Hye Rim, said his father kept his parents' relationship secret. Kim Jong Un, the youngest son, was born to another mistress, Ko Yong Hui. Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi, a former Tokyo Shimbun editor, got closer to Kim Jong Nam than most reporters. In 2012 he published the book: "My Father, Kim Jong Il, and I -- Kim Jong Nam's Confessions," based on interviews and about 150 emails he exchanged with Kim Jong Nam for seven years. Gomi recently talked to RFA journalist Jung Min Noh about the man whose apparent assassination has captured the world’s attention. An edited version of the interview translated by Soo Min Jo follows.
RFA: What did you think when you heard Kim Jong Nam was dead?
YG: I felt shock and pity.
RFA: Do you think his half-brother gave an assassination order?
YG: Although Kim Jong Un’s approval of an assassination is possible, I think it is also possible that the regime’s high-ranking officials close to Kim Jong Un may have acted out of loyalty and internal competition. As you know, many of them are getting purged or dismissed, and Kim Jong Nam was still an influential person, so there is a possibility that the people who decided to get rid of Kim Jong Nam were afraid of Kim Jong Un.
RFA: While he was one of the only members of the family who criticized the North Korean government and argued for reforms, there are reports that he feared for his son Kim Hansol’s safety. Do you know if that’s true?
YG: I heard that Kim Jong Nam was not going to do interviews for a while because of possible situations with Kim Jong Nam’s son, Hansol, who was attending a university in France. I have been trying to contact him for five years, but I have been unable to connect with him. I have heard that Hansol is still in France. I heard that they got along really well and met often.
RFA: According to your research, Kim Jong Nam was viewed as a possible alternative to Kim Jong Ill. What does his death mean to North Koreans who might seek reform?
YG: Not only me, but other North Korean defectors whom I met in Japan, said something like this about Kim Jong Nam: “North Korea can change. There are people inside of North Korea who think that it is necessary for North Korea to reform and open up. That day will come someday.” Now, I feel like these possibilities are gone because Kim Jong Nam lost his life. I feel disappointment and regret. It breaks my heart.