NKorea's heir apparent remains a mystery

23rd June 2009, Comments 0 comments

Kim Jong-Un, 26, the likely successor to Kim Jong-Il, reportedly attended Swiss schools.

Tokyo -- If North Korea is a mystery to the world, the young man who may one day rule the isolated state could be a perfect fit -- his life is secretive and the last known photo of him is 10 years old.

Kim Jong-Il's youngest son, 26-year-old Kim Jong-Un, was suggested in recent months as the likely heir to the world's only communist family dynasty.

Newspaper reports say he went to Swiss schools where he enjoyed basketball and drawing cartoons. The Washington Post said staff and friends remember a shy boy who liked skiing and Hollywood actor Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Kenji Fujimoto, a former Japanese sushi chef for Kim Jong-Il, in a memoir once described him as a "chip off the old block, a spitting image of his father in terms of face, body shape and personality."

Kim Jong-Un was born to the leader's third wife, Japanese-born dancer Ko Yong-Hi, who is believed to have died of breast cancer in 2004. He has two elder brothers, Kim Jong-Chul, 28, and Kim Jong-Nam, 38.

That is the only public information available about the youngest son.

Despite the lack of information, Kim Jong-Un was noted by South Korean media in January as the likely successor to his 67-year-old father, who has appeared frail since a reported stroke in August 2008.

A Japanese non-profit group reported that children and soldiers in North Korea were told to learn songs and slogans praising him.

Japanese newspapers have been doing their own research into his CV.

The Mainichi Shimbun in June published what it said was a 1999 class photo of Jong-Un taken when he was 16 years old at one of two schools he attended in the Swiss capital of Bern under a false name.

If authentic, it is the most recent picture available of Kim Jong-Un, whose ruling clan deemed the family photo album a state secret. Previously, the only other photo believed to be of Kim showed him as an 11-year-old.

The report said he was enrolled as a child of a North Korea embassy employee at the Bern schools from the summer of 1996 to January 2001, under the name of "Pak Un".

According to classmates, he studied English, French and German and once invited a Portuguese school friend on a chauffeured overnight trip to Paris to watch a US National Basketball Association game.

The friend, named as Jocao Micaelo, reportedly said Kim would not talk about his family at school but once said that he was one of Kim Jong-Il's sons, presenting a family photograph as proof.

School principal Peter Burri was quoted as saying by the Mainichi daily that the child "worked enthusiastically on everything. He was good at mathematics, but his grades in English and German were also good."

His former teacher Simone Kuhn reportedly described him as appearing "as if he were hidden in a veil of mystery," and she recalled that one day he told her he would not be coming back to school the next day.

Bern's town education director Ueli Studer in June told a press conference that "from August 1998 until autumn 2000 a youth from North Korea attended the school. He was enrolled as the son of an embassy employee."

"The student was considered well-integrated, industrious and ambitious. His hobby was basketball," Studer said in a brief statement to journalists, adding that "we will not take part in speculation."

Back in Pyongyang, South Korea's Yonhap news agency has reported, he went on to attend the Kim Il-Sung Military University and graduated in 2007.

AFP / Expatica

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