Regime living in fear of threat from Kim's secret son

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The Independent Online

It is the bright red Korean lettering adorning the top of one of the drab grey buildings that marks out the heavily guarded compound in Warsaw as unusual. "Great Leader Comrade Kim Il-sung will be with us forever!" it reads.

The embassy compound belongs to the hermit state of North Korea, and the ambassador is no ordinary diplomat, but the son of Kim Il-sung, North Korea's first president. Kim Pyong-il, 57, is thus a half-brother of the recently deceased Kim Jong-il, and an uncle of the country's new leader Kim Jong-un.

In a country with a dynastic succession principle, where family ties mean everything, why is this relative of the state's rulers living thousands of miles fromPyongyang?

Kim Pyong-il was sent abroad after a spat with Kim Jong-il in the late 1970s. He has been Ambassador to Poland since 1998. But even three decades after his exile, he is a threat for the regime. Last summer, as Kim Jong-il battled the ill health that killed him in December, there were reports that Kim Pyong-il was in Pyongyang and under house arrest

In the bizarre world of North Korean politics, Kim Pyong-il is a threat because of a resemblance to his father, Kim Il-sung.

It was a bid to look like North Korea's first leader that made current leader Kim Jong-un shave the sides of his head. The family resemblance may have forced Kim Pyong-il into the wilderness, experts say.

Kim Pyong-il almost never makes public statements or appearances. Some of the only photographs of him and his children, who were educated in Poland, date from his visit to a small Polish town in 2007. He is rarely seen at diplomatic soirées in Warsaw, putting in only a few appearances at the Algerian, Russian and Syrian embassies.

"Everyone was on the look-out for him at the time that Kim Jong-il died, and there were instructions to try to locate him and see if we could make contact," said a diplomat from an EU nation in Warsaw. "But we never got sight of him."

Kim Pyong-il was born several years after his half-brother, who would become "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il, and to a different mother. Testimony from defectors who have left North Korea points to a fierce rivalry between the two men during their youth, with Kim Jong-il from an early stage the designated successor to his father as leader of the country.

Some suggest Kim Pyong-il, with his close ties to the regime, Kim family name and knowledge of life abroad, might have a key role to play in any post-Communist state that springs up if and when the perverse dictatorship that his father set up ever collapses.

"When Communist regimes have fallen, many of those who were linked to the regime often remain in power," says Nicolas Levi, a Korea analyst at the Poland-Asia Research Centre in Warsaw. "If the North Korean regime does fall at some point in the future, it is quite possible that Kim Pyong-il might have a role to play in a new government."

But this particular scenario does not seem to be one that is on the cards in the immediate future. "The very fact that he is still alive suggests that he is not seen as a serious threat to Kim Jong-un," says Dr Levi.