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Another entrant for North Korea succession: Kim's oldest son?

Some analysts believe that Kim Jong-il's exiled oldest son is just waiting to see if his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un can do the job – but could return to rule North Korea.

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“He planned that comment in advance,” says Ha, whose station relies on secret cellphone contacts inside North Korea for much of its information. “There was a reason for his decision to talk in that way.”

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Ha highlighted the rivalry between Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-un in a seminar at which Kim Jong-il’s one-time chef talked about his memories of the family.

The chef, Kenji Fujimoto, who took off for Japan in 2001 and never returned, said he was “very surprised” by Kim Jong-nam’s remarks as they “put his life in danger.”

Mr. Fujimoto also noted one comment that appeared to have been a deliberate effort to enrage his father. Rather than referring to North Korea by its formal name, “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Kim Jong-nam used the same Korean words for “North Korea” that are commonly used by South Koreans.

This particular usage, he said, was one way “to show determination.” He doubted if such remarks would “come out by accident in the process of speaking.” For that reason, he said, “there is a possibility that North Korea will assassinate him.”

How other brothers fell

Both Kim Jong-nam and middle brother, Kim Jong-chul, born of the same mother as Kim Jong-un, were believed at various stages to have been seriously in the running for power. Both of them, however, fell from grace after publicly showing an interest in western forms of entertainment.

Kim Jong-nam fell out of favor in 2001 after immigration officials at Japan’s Narita airport discovered he was entering the country on a false Dominican passport. Accompanied by two women and a small child, he said he was on his way to Disneyland.

Kim Jong-chul began to lose out after the Japanese network, Fuji TV, captured him, his girlfriend, and four bodyguards on camera attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany in 2006.

Kim Jong-un in recent days has been reported by the North Korean media as visiting a secret military base and also the command center of Chinese forces who rescued North Korea during the Korean War. His father accompanied him on both visits, said Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency.

Daily NK, a website here that relies on cellphone reports from inside North Korea, reports that young North Koreans have been mocking Kim Jong-un in songs.

“The authorities are extremely sensitive,” Daily NK reported, “because there have been several attempted arson cases and negative opinions directed at the Kim Jong-un succession.”