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Kim Jong Un named commander of North Korea's 1.2 million-strong military

North Korea announced on Saturday it has appointed Kim Jong Un, the anointed successor and youngest son of Kim Jong Il, as supreme commander of its 1.2 million-strong military.
/ Source: news services

North Korea announced on Saturday it has appointed Kim Jong Un, the anointed successor and youngest son of Kim Jong Il, as Supreme Commander of its 1.2 million-strong military, two days after official mourning for the late leader ended.

The North's state news agency KCNA said the appointment was made at a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party on Friday.

KCNA said the Political Bureau members "courteously proclaimed the dear comrade Kim Jong Un, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea, assumed the Supreme Commandership of the Korean People's Army," according to a will made by Kim Jong Il on October 8.

It did not elaborate on the will.

Since Kim Jong Il's death on December 17, the North's state media have dubbed Kim Jong Un "supreme commander." Some Korea-watchers say it may take Kim Jong Un some months to assume the full panoply of official titles held by his father.

But the announcement of the politburo's decision is a clear sign that Kim Jong Un is fast consolidating power over North Korea. It's also the latest step in a burgeoning personality cult around him.

Kim Jong Un should be "the only center of unity, cohesion and leadership" of the Workers' Party, North Korea's state media said, and the military should uphold the "songun," or military-first, politics laid down by Kim Jong Il.

The party said the country should unite around Kim Jong Un and strengthen "the monolithic leadership system of the dear respected Comrade Kim Jong Un throughout the party and society."

Footage aired recently by the North's state TV has shown Kim Jong Un, believed to be in his 20s, flanked or followed by the North's top military officers and a coterie of leaders during a series of mourning ceremonies for his father.

This signaled a smooth transfer of power to Kim Jong Un, the third generation of his family to rule the unpredictable and reclusive communist state since shortly after World War Two.

"Faced with the sudden death of his father, Kim Jong Un and his supporters, who appear to be less prepared and insecure, may think they do not have much time in solidifying the young Kim's position," Professor Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on the North's leadership from Seoul's Dongguk University, told Reuters.

"The approval (of his supreme leadership of the military) should be one of the fastest ways to allow him the sovereign ruler position," Koh said. This ties in with the North's "military-first" policies on which Kim Jong Il relied heavily.

Choe Yong Nam, 48-year-old army officer, told The Associated Press in Pyongyang that he was confident with Kim Jong Un as Supreme Commander of the military. "As we were led by illustrious commanders of Mount Paektu, we have won only victories. I am sure that we will always emerge victorious as we have another great leader Kim Jong Un."

Paektu is the highest peak on the Korean peninsula that the North cites in propaganda to signify the Kim dynasty. It is also Kim Jong Il's official birthplace.

Kim Jong Un was named a four-star general and given the vice-chairmanship of the ruling party's Central Military Commission by his father in 2010.

Many Korea-watchers also expect the inexperienced new leader, who had only been groomed for rule since 2009, to lead with the aid of a close coterie around him that includes his uncle and key power-broker, Jang Song Thaek, at least in the early stages of the power transition.

Jang, husband of Kim Jong Il's younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui, stood behind his nephew in Wednesday's mass funeral parade, escorting the hearse carrying Kim's body.

Despite Pyongyang's determination to project an unbroken line from Kim Jong Un's iron-fisted predecessors, which began with his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, there have been questions among outsiders about his capacity to lead the country.

North Korea, whose military is pursuing a nuclear arms program, is technically still at war with the South and is suffering from chronic food shortages.

Labeling its opponents "foolish," North Korea warned the South on Friday it would stick to its hardline policies and said Pyongyang would never engage with the current government of South Korea.