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North Korea succession: Kim Jong-il's oldest son reveals ruling family fissure

North Korea leader Kim Jong-il's oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, said he is 'personally opposed to the hereditary transfer' of power to his half-brother, Kim Jong-un.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / October 12, 2010

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (r.) and his third son Kim Jong-un attend the biggest parade ever to mark the 65th anniversary of the communist nation's ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Oct. 10.

Vincent Yu/AP


Seoul, South Korea

A fissure may be opening up in the appearance of unity among members of North Korea’s ruling family just two days after leader Kim Jong-il staged the biggest parade in North Korean history to show off his third son, Kim Jong-un, as heir to power.

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Kim Jong-nam, the oldest of Kim Jong-il’s three sons, told a Japanese TV reporter that he was “personally opposed to the hereditary transfer to a third generation of the family,” while wishing his youngest half-brother, Kim Jong-un, well and promising “to help him whenever necessary.”

Kim Jong-nam, who resides in the former Portuguese colony of Macao, a gambling enclave on China’s southern coast, made the remark Saturday in a conversation with a reporter from Japan's TV Asahi. That was the same day when Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un appeared at elaborate mass games in Pyongyang’s May First Stadium and the day before they reviewed a parade showing off the North’s military might. The conversation, however, was not aired until Tuesday.

Discord in the family

The remarks of the older half-brother strike a distinctly discordant note among the paeans of praise in North Korea for the son who’s been chosen to carry on the legacy even if there was no sign of a desire to oppose their father’s choice.

Indeed, Kim Jong-nam, the son of an actress, professed “no interest” in a decision that he said “as a matter of course” would have been made by his father. Jong-nam, whose mother died in 2002, is assumed to have lost out on inheriting leadership after his arrest and detention in 2001 by immigration officials at Japan’s Narita Airport near Tokyo. Traveling on a fake Dominican passport, accompanied by two women and a son, aged four, he reportedly said he was bringing them to nearby Disneyland.

Kim Jong-nam’s remarks, which are likely to be viewed as traitorous inside North Korea when and if they are seen there, also veered toward heresy by evincing concern for North Korea’s people, most of whom are reported to be underfed if not starving. By expressing the hope that “my younger brother will do his best to make the lives of the North Korean people affluent,” he came close to acknowledging that many of North Korea’s 24 million people are likely suffering in one way or another.

While Kim Jong-nam is known to speak out from time to time, Kim Jong-un has maintained total silence in several appearances with his father since his rise to the post of vice chairman of the military commission of the Workers’ Party and a member of the party’s central committee.