Kim Jong Il’s third and youngest son has been named a four-star general ahead of North Korea’s largest ruling party meeting in decades, according to official state media.
Kim Jong Un, believed to be 27 years of age, is widely expected to be crowned Kim Jong Il’s successor at the Worker’s Party Conference which opens Tuesday in the nation’s capital Pyongyang.
Kim Jong Il, 68, suffered a stroke in 2008 and varying reports about the state of his health suggest that the North Korean leader is pushing ahead with a succession process which eventually would give his son command of a 1.2 million man army.
Kim Jong Un is the son of Ko Young Hee, a former consort of Kim Jong Il’s who died in Paris in 2004.
He is believed to have attended a private high school in Switzerland from 1993 to 1998 and is known to have enrolled in a special course at the Kim Il Sung Military University in later years.
Sister also appointed
The Korean Central News Agency also announced that Kim Jong Il’s sister, Kim Kyong Hui, was also appointed as a four-star general along with trusted aide Choe Ryong Hae.
Kim Kyong Hui, 64, is the younger sister of Kim Jong Il and the leader’s only known sibling who is not a half brother or half sister.
Her credentials include several positions within the Workers’ Party of Korea, including director of the Light Industry Department, director of the Economic Policy Inspection Department, and vice-director of the International Relations Department.
Kim Kyong Hui was also appointed to the all-powerful Central Committee in 1988, a post which she retains to this day.
She is also the wife of Jang Song Taek, the second most powerful man in North Korea and the head of the country’s security department.
Many experts believe Jang will control North Korea on an interim basis in the event of Kim Jong Il’s death as the young Kim Jong Un gradually assumes his father’s mantle of power.
North Korea’s powerful top echelon is shrouded in secrecy, and little is known about Kim Jong Un’s political proclivities or whether he will be accepted by the nuclear-armed country’s military elite.
At the last major Workers' Party meeting in 1980, it was Kim Jong Il who was confirmed as the eventual successor to his father Kim Il Sung. The elder Kim died in 1994.
Written by Joshua Lipes with additional reporting from wire services.