North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has nominated his third son as successor and informed the ruling communist party leadership of his choice, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported yesterday.
The nomination of Kim Jong-Un, 24, was totally unexpected even among party leaders, Yonhap said, quoting "well-informed intelligence sources."
The reclusive leader "delivered a directive that he had named Jong-Un as his successor to the leadership of the Workers' Party around Jan. 8," a source was quoted as saying.
Analysts have said previously Jong-Un is not in the running.
The succession is a subject of intense interest, notably after South Korean and U.S. officials said Kim Jong-Il, 66, suffered a stroke in mid-August. He is said to be recovering well and still in control of his nuclear-armed but impoverished nation.
Kim Jong-Un was born to the leader's third wife, Ko Yong-Hi, who reportedly died of breast cancer in 2004. He was educated at an international school in Switzerland but holds no key official posts.
Senior party officials were surprised at the leader's decision, Yonhap said, adding Kim might have pushed ahead due to anxiety about his health.
Kim's eldest son - Jong-Nam, 37, who was born to a different mother, is thought by some to have spoiled his prospects after being deported from Japan in 2001 for trying to enter the country with a forged passport.
Some analysts have seen his second son, 27-year-old Kim Jong-Chul, as the favorite to take over. But Kenji Fujimoto, a former Japanese sushi chef for the North Korean leader, has said in a memoir that Kim thought of Jong-Chul as too feminine and unfit for leadership.
Jeung Young-Tae of the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) said analysts should closely watch a March 8 parliamentary election to see whether Jong-Un is appointed to the powerful National defense Commission.
"If that's the case, we can safely say North Korea has started grooming Jong-Un as the heir-apparent to his father," he said.
In a separate report, the state-run KINU said the North is unlikely to experience a sudden collapse despite growing unrest over chronic food shortages. It described leader Kim as fully in command.