December 26, 2011 in Nation/World

S. Korean delegations head to Kim’s funeral

Former first lady among dignitaries
Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Lee Hee-ho, center, and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, right, depart for North Korea today to attend the funeral of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
(Full-size photo)

PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea’s state media today called Kim Jong Il’s heir the head of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, a job that gives Kim Jong Un power over one of the country’s highest decision-making bodies more than a week after his father’s death.

The reference in a commentary by the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper came as a former South Korean first lady and a prominent business leader traveled with two private delegations to North Korea to pay respects to Kim Jong Il, who is being mourned by millions as the North prepares for his funeral Wednesday.

North Korean soldiers, Rodong Sinmun said, are upholding a slogan urging them to dedicate their lives “to protect the party’s Central Committee headed by respected comrade Kim Jong Un.” Kim Jong Il’s youngest son is in his late 20s and was unveiled in September 2010 as his father’s choice as successor.

The slogan, which state media had frequently used when rallying support for Kim Jong Il, suggests the heir will likely be appointed as Workers’ Party general secretary, the ruling party’s top job and one of the country’s highest positions.

Also today, a total of 18 South Koreans crossed the heavily fortified border for a two-day trip that includes a visit to Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Memorial Palace where Kim’s body is lying in state, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

The two groups are led by Lee Hee-Ho – the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, the creator of the engagement “sunshine” policy with the North who held a landmark summit with Kim in 2000 – and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, whose late husband had ties to the North.

South Korea has only allowed the two groups to visit and pay condolences for the death of Kim on Dec. 17. That has angered Pyongyang, which subsequently warned that obstructing mourning trips to the North would lead to “catastrophic consequences” for relations between the rivals.

North Korean state television also showed footage showing Kim Jong Un’s uncle and key patron, Jang Song Thaek, wearing a military uniform with a general’s insignia, a strong sign he’ll play a crucial role in helping the young man hold a grip on power and inherit his father’s trademark “military-first” policy. Seoul’s Unification Ministry said it was the first time Jang, usually seen in business suits, had been shown wearing a military uniform on state TV.

Jang, a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, is the husband of Kim Kyong Hui, younger sister of Kim Jong Il and a key Workers’ Party official. South Korean lawmakers say intelligence officials have predicted that Jang and his wife will play larger roles supporting Kim Jong Un.

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