Could Kim Jong Un's nephew be next?

Mr Kim Han Sol is said to be holed up in Macau with his family following the death of his father.
Mr Kim Han Sol is said to be holed up in Macau with his family following the death of his father.

SEOUL • Where is Mr Kim Han Sol, a grandson of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il? Is he safe? Could he be next on the hit list?

These questions have cropped up following the death of his father Kim Jong Nam in Kuala Lumpur.

South Korean lawmaker Lee Cheol Woo said yesterday that the 21-year-old is now holed up in Macau with his family.

"They are under the protection of the Chinese authorities," he said.

South Korea's spy agency said Mr Kim Jong Nam was poisoned by two suspected agents of North Korea. Some analysts said his half-brother Jong Un, the current North Korean leader, may have felt threatened by his existence. There was also talk that Mr Kim Jong Nam enjoyed Beijing's protection as he was seen as a fallback if the regime collapses.

"By the nature of things in North Korea, the fact that he is in the bloodline represented a threat," Dr Jae H. Ku, director of the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told the New York Times.

The young Mr Kim, a student at France's prestigious Sciences-Po university, grabbed headlines in 2012 when he called his uncle a dictator during a rare interview.

 

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Born in Pyongyang in 1995, Mr Kim Han Sol said he had never met his grandfather, who led the autocratic state until his death in December 2011. Despite being the youngest of three sons, Mr Kim Jong Un took over the nuclear-armed state.

Asked why his uncle was appointed as leader, the then 17-year-old had replied: "My dad was definitely not really interested in politics. I really don't know how he (Kim Jong Un) became a dictator... It was between him and my grandfather."

The young Mr Kim also said he was not aware of his family's status until he was much older. "I really didn't know until later on that my grandfather was a leader in Korea... Little by little, through conversations my parents had, I started to put the puzzle pieces together and then I realised who he was," he told Finnish broadcaster Yle.

Mr Kim Han Sol said he hopes for the eventual reunification of North and South Korea. "I have always dreamed one day I will go back and make things better; make it easier for all the people there," he added in the interview with former UN undersecretary-general Elisabeth Rehn.

"I also dream of reunification because it is really sad that I can't go to the other side (South Korea) and see my friends there."

In December 2013, the young Mr Kim disappeared briefly from his university campus in the French city of Le Havre, and then reappeared with police protection.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Could Kim Jong Un's nephew be next?'. Print Edition | Subscribe