N. Korean leader's son promoted

North Korea's Kim Jong-il makes his elusive youngest son a four-star general and a central committee member amid speculation he is to become the country's next leader.

Kim Jong-il stays on as leader, while son gets military and political positions

North Korea's ailing dictator, Kim Jong-il, has promoted his youngest son Kim Jong-un in a sign the inexperienced Kim is being groomed to succeed his father as head of the nuclear state.

Kim Jong-il, seen during his May 2010 visit to China, was re-elected as leader of North Korea, according to state media reports. ((Korean Central News Agency/Associated Press))

North Korea's state broadcaster announced early Tuesday that Kim Jong-un, believed to be 27, was being promoted to the rank of four-star general. It was the first time the state broadcaster had ever mentioned his name. 

The North Korean state media announced Wednesday local time that the younger Kim has also been named a member of the ruling Workers' Party Central Committee and vice-chairman of the party's Central Military Commission.

He has had no known political or military positions until Tuesday.

The promotion to general was announced hours before the largest Korean Workers' Party meeting in 30 years. 

Observers widely believe the 68-year-old Kim Jong-il, who suffered a stroke two years ago, is making plans for a third Kim to run the country.

Kim Jong-il, apparently in deteriorating health, made the appointments as he moves the communist dynasty toward a third generation.

Kim Jong-il remains chairman of the military commission, which is in charge of military policies and projects, and directs the country's 1.2 million-member army. 

Reports from South Korea claim Kim decided his two older sons weren't up to the task, describing the eldest Kim Jong-nam as incompetent and Kim Jong-choi as too "girlish."

The youngest Kim would inherit a country of 24 million that must deal with near-bankruptcy, annual famines, frequent blackouts and its status as a nuclear-armed state. Meanwhile, China is leaning on the country to follow its example of opening up to foreign investment.

No known photos of Kim Jong-un

Some analysts fear that if Kim Jong-il's death comes too soon, his inexperienced son might lose a family feud for power, which could destabilize the Korean Peninsula, still a cold war powder keg.

Kim Jong-un is inexperienced and little is known about him, including what he looks like. There are no known photos of him as an adult, though a former sushi chef of Kim Jong-il who wrote a book about the job said the younger Kim looks like his father.

He's his father's favourite as well, according to I Was Kim Jong Il's Cook, written under the pen name Kenji Fujimoto.

It is known that the younger Kim was educated in Switzerland and at Kim Il-sung Military University in Pyongyang.

Ha Tae-keung, head of a Seoul-based radio station that claims to have a widespread network of sources in North Korea, said the younger Kim was the mastermind behind the 2009 cyber attacks on the South Korean government and the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

Pyongyang has denied any involvement.

Some time will be needed to raise the next Kim's profile.

The personality cult that sustains Kim Jong-il's power is supported by a belief that North Koreans are too racially pure to mix with the rest of the world.

Often portrayed as a strange tyrant in the West, Kim Jong-il is known and portrayed in North Korea as the "dear leader" who protects his people from evil outside influences.

Change could be far off, however: In 1973, Kim Il-sung started to promote Kim Jong-il, but he was not tapped as the future leader publicly until 1980 and did not take control of the armed forces until 1991. He became part of communism's first heredity succession after his father died of heart failure in 1994.

Kim Jong-il stays on as general secretary

North Korean state TV said Tuesday that "crucial developments" were taking place at the conference and that Kim Jong-il was re-elected as general secretary, the party's top position.

"His re-election is an expression of absolute support and trust of all the party members, the servicepersons and the people in Kim Jong-il," The Associated Press reported the official Korean Central News Agency as saying.

Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-il's sister, was also promoted to general.  

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think-tank near Seoul, told The Associated Press that the 64-year-old sister could play the role of co-ordinator to make sure the transfer of power goes smoothly.

Her husband, Jang Song Thaek, vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission, may also act as a guardian, analysts say.

One Korean affairs analyst noted that five people other than Kim Jong-un were promoted to general. Carl Baker of the Pacific Forum CISIS think tank in Honolulu said that means he may not wield as much power as his predecessors.

North Korea and South Korea remain at war because their conflict from 1950 to 1953 ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. 

With files from The Associated Press