SEOUL, South Korea Sept. 27, 2010— -- North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il moved to extend the family dynasty today by promoting his young son to the rank of general, and likely putting him in line to inherit power in the nuclear armed country.
Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be 27 or 28, was given the military title of "dae-jang," which translates to the rank of general, according to the official North Korean news agency.
The newly minted general is the third son of the country's dictator and it has been speculated in recent months that Kim Jong Il has settled Kim Jong Un to take his place upon his death.
North Korea is notoriously secretive about its hierarchy and today's announcement was the first time that the country's official news agency has mentioned the son.
Kim Jong Il also gave his sister, Kim Kyung Hee, a similar rank. Kim Kyung Hee is believed to be a strong supporter of Jong Un.
With the aging leader getting increasingly frail, there has been intense interest in who is likely to succeed him as the head of a country with a nuclear stockpile.
"Kim Jong Il must have tested his (three) sons and finally decided the third son is best suited. They've been consistently and carefully preparing for this debut for quite some time," said Chul Ki Ju, professor of international studies at Seoul National University told ABC News recently.
Focus has been on Jong Un as the likely successor, but little is known about him.
"No one knows what he looks like, but it is certain that he indeed exists and is slated to be the next leader," said Tae-Gyun Park, professor of international studies at Seoul National University.
The young Kim is not only mysterious to the world, but also to the North Korean people. Eyewitnesses and sources close to North Korea say only recently have the party officials started to openly talk about the "brilliant comrade."
North Korea's New General and Likely Heir Apparent
Jong Un is reported to be the son of Kim Jong-Il's third late wife, Ko Yong-hi who was the prima donna of North Korean opera in early years. She had acted as the de facto first lady and died of breast cancer in 2004.
The likely heir was educated in Switzerland for several years during middle school and is known to have been a fan of NBA basketball. One of the few witnesses who have met the rumored successor, Fujimoto Genji, a former Japanese private chef of Kim Jong Il, wrote in his tell-all book that Jong-Un, at the time 11 years old, was active, competitive and possessed of leadership qualities.
The announcement of Jong Un's promotion came a day ahead of North Korea's largest political convention in 30 years. The convention was scheduled for earlier this month, but was abruptly canceled.
North Korea watchers had speculated that the convention had been canceled due to ill health by Kim Jong Il, and study any photos or video to pick up clues about his health. A recent trip to China provided North Korea watchers with new evidence about his health.
Reports have speculated that Jong Il likely suffered a stroke and may have diabetes.
"If you look at the few available videos of Kim walking recently, he limps dragging his left leg. His left arm is also just hanging there without movement," said Chul-Joong Kim, medical consultant and chief medical correspondent for South Korea's major newspaper Chosun Ilbo.