South Korean delegation meets with North Korea's new leader

Succession seems on track as mourning for Kim Jong-il continues

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PYONGYANG // A private delegation of South Koreans in Pyongyang to pay condolences to Kim Jong-il met the late leader's son and heir yesterday, Seoul's Unification Ministry said.

It appeared to be Kim Jong-un's first reported meeting with South Koreans since his father's death on December 17. The South Koreans paid respects at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace where Kim Jong-il's body is lying in state and met Kim Jong-un there.

The widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who held a landmark summit with Kim Jong-il in 2000, was one of the group leaders. The other was the Hyundai Group chairwoman, Hyun Jeong-eun, whose late husband had ties to the North.

Earlier, Mr Kim was identified yesterday as the head of a top decision-making body of the ruling Workers' Party, a post that now gives him authority over political as well as military matters in North Korea.

On Saturday, state media referred to him as "supreme leader" of North Korea's 1.2 million-strong armed forces and said the military's top leaders had pledged their loyalty to him.

Yesterday, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper described him as head of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party - a post that appears to make him the top official in the Workers' Party.

Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea as head of three main state organs: the Workers' Party, the Korean People's Army and the National Defence Commission.

Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20s and was revealed last year as his father's choice among three sons for successor, is the third generation Kim to rule the country. He was named a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party, but was expected to ascend to new military and political posts while being groomed to become the next leader.

People continued lining up yesterday in central Kim Il-sung Square, where a massive portrait that usually features Kim Il-sung has been replaced by one of Kim Jong-il, to bow before his smiling image and to lay funereal flowers.