North leader’s son denies asylum rumors

김정남, 프랑스 망명설 묻자 “제가 왜 가요?”
Kim Jong-nam gives first interview to South media  PLAY AUDIO

June 07,2010
Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, waves as he leaves his first-ever interview with South Korean media. By Shin In-seop
MACAU - The reclusive eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il gave his first-ever interview to South Korean reporters last Friday after being tracked down at a hotel in Macau, China.

Although Kim Jong-nam said little in the brief exchange, he denied rumors that he has been trying to seek refuge in Europe since allegedly coming under threat of assassination after losing a power struggle to his younger brother Kim Jong-un last year.

“I have no plans on moving to Europe. Why would I?” he said. “I could go there for a vacation, but I think you have only heard rumors.”

A JoongAng Sunday reporter confronted Jong-nam, 39, in the 10th-floor elevator bank of the Altira Hotel after a late-morning meal with an unidentified woman, who looked to be a Korean in her 20s. He had previously given interviews to the Hong Kong and Japanese press, but for South Korean media it was a first.

Jong-nam appeared cool as he allowed his picture to be taken, blue Ferragamo loafers and all. But he kept the talk and his answers short.

Asked how he had been, he said, “Fine, now are you satisfied?”

As to rumors that he had been telling people in Macau that heir-apparent Kim Jong-un, who was born in 1984 (although North Korean media last year reported he was born in 1982), is the son of one of his father’s mistresses, and thus should be out of the line of succession, he replied “I do not have any idea of what you just said.”

His father’s health, he said, is “doing well,” and when asked about the Cheonan, he said “Cheonan? I do not know. Please stop.”

Kim Jong-nam abruptly ended the interview when he was asked about rumors of a crackdown last year on a safe house in Pyongyang where secret political meetings were supposedly held. With a smile and a wave, he backed through the elevator doors.

Like most of North Korea’s ruling family, little is known for certain about Kim Jong-nam. According to sources including acquaintances in Macau as well as high-ranking North Korean defectors, he was considered most likely to succeed his father until the mid-1990s. Jong-nam allegedly saw his future begin to crumble when Japan expelled him in 2001 after he was caught travelling on a false Dominican passport. The final blow came when he denounced his father’s political stratagems around the same time.

Jong-nam has since lived in China, occasionally travelling to Pyongyang for brief visits. His long absences from the country have weakened his support with favorites inside the North Korean military and government, on whom he was said to have lavished gifts such as Rolex watches.

As the rift between Jong-nam and his father deepened, his brother Jong-un began to make a name for himself. After leading a project to expand the Pyongyang University of Music in 2006, the younger son gained his father’s trust, eventually accompanying Kim Jong-il on field guidance rounds while he recovered from a stroke in September 2008. Kim Jong-il reportedly told Jang Song-thaek, the director of the administration department of the Workers’ Party as well as Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law, and Ri Je-gang, the first deputy director of the party’s Organization and Guidance Department, to “help Jong-un.”

Sources said the power struggle between the brothers began after Jong-un ordered the crackdown on the house where Jong-nam’s supporters met. Jong-nam fled to Singapore after he learned of the raid, and rumors that he was seeking asylum began almost immediately after reports surfaced that Jong-un was calling in his brother’s people for questioning.

Jong-nam had survived a reported plot to kill him in October 2004, and he avoided another attempt last year only after asking for his father and uncle’s help, sources said. In interviews after the raid with Japanese media, Jong-nam said he had “no interest in succession and would live quietly.” Observers believe the statements were a message to Pyongyang that he was uninvolved in any political scheming.

Thereafter, however, Jong-nam reportedly began to belittle Jong-un, saying his brother is not Kim Jong-il’s legitimate son. While the North Korean line says Jong-un was born to Kim Jong-il’s late wife Ko Young-hee, Jong-nam allegedly said Jong-un was born out of wedlock to Kim Ok, his father’s common-law fourth wife.

The battle between the brothers seems to be favoring Kim Jong-un, but Kim Jong-nam has advocates like his uncle Jang and O Kuk-ryol, a senior leader in North Korea’s Defense Commission. Jang is currently the No. 2 person in Pyongyang, and his power could be increased by Ri’s death in a car accident last week. Jang has reportedly promised Kim Jong-il that he will support Jong-un as successor, but things could change very quickly if Kim Jong-il dies.

As Kim Jong-nam reportedly told a foreign diplomatic source last spring, “The next five years will be the key variable.”

By Ahn Sung-kyoo [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
Related Korean Article

김정남, 프랑스 망명설 묻자 “제가 왜 가요?”

[한국 언론 사상 첫 김정남 인터뷰]
두 달 추적 끝 마카오서 … “천안함 난 몰라, 아버님 건강 좋습니다”

김정일 북한 국방위원장의 장남인 김정남이 4일 오전 마카오 시내 알티라 호텔 10층의 식당 앞에서 기자와 만난 뒤 승강기에 타고있다. 진지하게 인터뷰에 응하던 정남은 헤어질 땐 활짝 웃는 얼굴로 손을 들어 기자에게 인사했다. [마카오=신인섭 기자]

김정일 국방위원장의 아들 김정남(39)이 프랑스 망명을 준비 중이며 사실상 마무리 단계에 접어든 것으로 알려졌다. 서울의 한 소식통은 최근 “김 위원장을 치료했고 정남도 치료했던 프랑스 국적 의사와 경제인 등 두 명을 통해 프랑스 관계기관과 협상을 마무리한 것으로 파악하고 있다”고 말했다. 김정남도 “에펠탑을 보고 싶다”는 말을 현지의 지인에게 한 것으로 포착되기도 했다. 망명 이유는 이복동생 김정은의 끊임없는 위협 때문이다.

망명설을 확인하기 위해 김정남의 행적 수소문에 나선 것은 두 달 전. 그러나 그의 동선이 워낙 은밀해 추적이 쉽지 않았다. 현지 교민에 따르면 방코델타아시아(BDA) 사건 이후 북한 관계자들이 모두 인근의 중국 지역으로 이동했고 더불어 1년 전쯤부터 정남의 움직임이 교포 사회에서 거의 포착되지 않았다.

첩보전에 가까운 과정을 거쳐 4일 오전 10시30분 마카오 알티라 호텔에서 정남을 만났다. 그는 망명설에 대해 “그럴 계획 없다”며 부인했다.

그를 만난 곳은 코타이 소재 38층 규모 호텔 10층의 오로라 양식당 안쪽. 바다가 보이는 창가에 남녀가 식사를 하고 있었다. 남성이 입구로 들어서는 기자를 봤다. 그러더니 앞의 여성에게 뭔가 말한다. 흰색 블라우스에 푸른색 카디건, 바지 차림의 1m70㎝쯤 되는 20대 여성이 일어서더니 훌쩍 나갔다. 남아 있는 남성. 면도하지 않은 텁수룩한 얼굴이지만 분명히 알아볼 수 있었다. 김정남이었다. 그는 빠져 나가려 했지만 엘리베이터 앞의 취재팀에 막혔다. 그래도 전혀 당황하지 않고 “기자시죠?”라고 물어왔다. 취재진이 “사진 몇 장 찍겠다”고 하자 그러라며 시원시원하게 나왔다.

서울에서 온 중앙일보의 일요신문 중앙SUNDAY 기자라고 신분을 밝히자 “ 남쪽 기자는 처음 만납니다. 지금까지 일본 기자는 좀 만났지만…”이라고 했다. 인사말을 한 뒤 막 바로 준비한 질문을 던졌다.

-아우님(김정일 위원장의 3남이자 후계자인 김정은)이 김옥 여사의 아드님이라고 말하셨다는 얘기를 마카오에서 들었습니다.

“(얼굴이 딱딱해졌다) 뭔 얘기인지 전혀 모르겠는데요.”

김정은(28)은 위원장의 두 번째 부인 고영희(사망)의 아들로 알려져 있었다. ‘김옥 여사’는 ‘김정일의 세 번째 여성으로 권력 실세’로 꼽히는 인물이다. 마카오의 지인들은 김정남이 ‘김정은이 고영희의 아들이 아니라 김옥의 아들’이라는 얘기를 했다고 전해 줬다. 서울의 고위 정보 소식통도 “이런 사실은 북쪽 지도부에서도 제한된 사람들만 안다”며 “이게 널리 알려지면 김정은이 김씨 가문의 혈통을 정통으로 계승하지 못한 인물이 되는 것”이라고 설명했다. 후계 구도가 뒤틀릴 수 있는 왕가 혈통의 비밀인 셈이다.

이어 ‘프랑스 망명설’로 옮겼다.

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