A look at key players in North Korean leadership

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A look at key players in NKorean leadership

A look at key players in North Korea’s leadership, as the reclusive country holds an extraordinary party convention for the first time in decades.

Kim Jong Il: North Korea’s 68-year-old leader took power in 1994 upon the death of his father, regime founder Kim Il Sung. He rules the country as chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission and general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea. He reportedly suffered a stroke in August 2008, sparking questions about who may succeed him. Kim, said to have a taste for fine wine and gourmet food, is also believed to suffer from chronic diabetes and heart disease.

Kim Jong Un: Youngest son of Kim Jong Il. He was promoted to the Workers’ Party Central Committee and the Central Military Commission at a party convention Tuesday and to the rank of four-star general of the Korean People’s Army the day before, putting him well on the path to succeed his father as leader. Believed to be in his late 20s, he studied English, French and German at the International School of Berne in Switzerland. He is reportedly a fan of NBA basketball and enjoys skiing.

Kim Kyong Hui, 64: Younger sister of Kim Jong Il. Married Russian-educated Jang Song Thaek at age 26. She is a member of the party’s Central Committee, was appointed to its political bureau on Tuesday and, like Kim Jong Un, was made a general in the Korean People’s Army just ahead of the Workers’ Party conference.

She is said to have a fiery personality and is extremely close to Kim Jong Il.

Jang Song Thaek, 64: Kim’s brother-in-law and vice chairman of the National Defense Commission and was also named a member of the party’s military commission Tuesday. He and his wife are believed poised to play key roles in ensuring a smooth transition of power to Kim Jong Un and could even be part of a collective leadership if Kim Jong Il dies before his successor can firmly establish himself.

Kim Yong Nam, 82: Kim Jong Il’s long-serving No. 2, who often represents the country in meetings with visiting dignitaries and at international gatherings. He is a member of the Central Committee of the ruling party and also the head of the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament.

Kang Sok Ju, 71: Kim Jong Il’s key foreign policy adviser, the veteran official negotiated a landmark nuclear deal with the United States in 1994. He was promoted earlier this month to vice premier overseeing the country’s foreign policy.

O Kuk Ryol, 79: Vice chairman of the National Defense Commission. He was educated at a Soviet military university and is fluent in English and Russian, with extensive knowledge of Chinese. As Kim Jong Il’s drinking partner, O is said to have secured the leader’s trust.

Ri Yong Ho, 68: Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army and a four-star general. He was recently awarded a series of high-profile positions and earlier this month was made vice foreign minister. He was also promoted this week to vice marshal of the army and vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission alongside Kim Jong Un.

Sources: Unification Ministry’s Information Center on North Korea, Korean Central News Agency and Associated Press reports.

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