North Korean Successor Named

Kim Jong Il, the reclusive leader of former Soviet ally North Korea thought to be recovering from a serious illness, has picked his third and youngest known son to succeed him, a South Korean news report said Thursday.

The demise of the 66-year-old Kim without a clear successor could likely add to the uncertainty of a country trying to develop nuclear weapons with an economy in ruins and a population constantly on the edge of famine.

"We believe Chairman Kim Jong Il has picked the son Jong Un he had with third and late wife Ko Yong Hui and given instructions to the Workers' Party Organization and Guidance Department around Jan. 8," Yonhap news agency quoted an intelligence source as saying.

Senior officials of the powerful party apparatus, where Kim himself began his training as anointed leader before succeeding his father in 1994, have been instructed to pass the message down the ranks, the source was quoted as saying.

The Soviet Union was once a stalwart supporter and donor for North Korea, but bilateral ties withered after the 1991 Soviet breakup, and analysts say China has far more influence with Pyongyang than Russia.

North Korea has agreed to rent a 52-kilometer section of track to Russian Railways as part of a plan to link East Asia to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

The venture is part of a plan that originated in 2001, when Kim traveled by rail from Pyongyang to Moscow to visit then-President Vladimir Putin.

(Reuters, AP, Bloomberg)