N Korea top brass 'pledge loyalty' to Kim's son

A SOUTH KOREAN newspaper claimed to have learnt yesterday that North Korea's top military brass had pledged allegiance to Kim Jong Il, the son and heir-apparent of Kim Il Sung.

The pro-government daily Chosun-Ilbo has quoted unnamed military sources in the south as saying 58 senior North Korean military officers had made the pledge on Monday. All were members of the Kim Il Sung funeral committee - headed by Kim Jong Il and comprising 273 members of the North Korean elite. The report could not be confirmed by independent or official sources, but Kim Jong Il, 52,has appeared on television with tear-streaked face beside the body of his father, along with other senior members of the Communist hierarchy.

The footage of Pyongyang's political elite standing beside the glass coffin, relayed by North Korean television yesterday morning, was the first time the younger Kim had appeared in public since his father's death last Friday. It seemed designed to show he was confidently in charge of the state apparatus.

While North Koreans mourn their departed 'Great Leader', Pyongyang has also been sending out messages to the US and South Korea that it intends to continue the dialogue over its nuclear programme - suspended since the dictator's death. Pyongyang appears prepared to meet US negotiators in Geneva soon after Kim Il Sung's funeral, next Sunday, to reschedule their nuclear talks.

The North Koreans have also indicated they want to talk to South Korea about resetting a date for a summit of the two Korean leaders, which had previously been set for 25-27 July. President Bill Clinton, his partners at the Group of Seven summit, and the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, have all insisted that North Korea should not use the death of Kim Il Sung as a shield for backing away from committments to open nuclear plants to outside inspectors.

Foreign ambassadors who attended the mourning ceremony in Pyongyang's presidential palace on Monday evening were made to wait for four hours before being allowed into the room with Kim Il Sung's glass coffin in the centre. They were told they could address one sentence to Kim Jong Il. But the younger Kim did not say anything to any of the foreign dignitaries.

Solemn music played as Kim Jong Il was seen dabbing tears from his eyes with a handkerchief.