Floods in NKorea appear to have forced delay of rare political meeting on succession: sources

By Hyung-jin Kim, AP
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NKorean political gathering delayed, sources say

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea appears to have postponed a rare political meeting believed aimed at promoting a son of leader Kim Jong Il, an official and aid group said Wednesday, amid speculation that devastation from recent flooding has forced the delay.

State media reported last week that Workers’ Party delegates were gathering in Pyongyang to elect new party leaders in what would be the communist party’s biggest meeting in 30 years, but there have been no signs the meeting has begun. Analysts believe Kim, 68, will use the conference to give his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, a key party position as part of plans to groom him as his successor.

South Korea’s point man on North Korea said he believes the meeting didn’t take place on Wednesday - a day South Korean and Japanese media suggested would the starting date.

“The flooding can be a reason or there may be some other reasons, but I think there is an internal matter,” Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told reporters in Seoul, according to his ministry.

A Seoul-based group that provides aid to North Korea reported that the party was forced to postpone the meeting on Tuesday because it had failed to achieve a quorum after flooding disrupted transportation and prevented many delegates from arriving on time.

The group, Good Friends, cited an unidentified party delegate in North Korea as saying delegates had begun returning home.

Good Friends does not provide details about its sources. Some of its previous reports about events in North Korea have proven reliable.

“There is no other possible explanation for the postponement than the flooding and typhoon damage,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies. “North Korea needs to hold the party convention in a festive mood so as to unite the people.”

North Korean state media reported Wednesday that a typhoon killed dozens of people and destroyed roads, railways and thousands of homes early this month.

It was the first confirmation from North Korea of the extent of the damage inflicted by Typhoon Kompasu. The North has also been struggling to recover from separate flooding that battered its northwest last month.

Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, sparking fears about instability and a possible power struggle in the nuclear-armed country if he were to die without anointing a successor.

Kim took over leadership of the country after his father died of heart failure in 1994 - a handover that was communism’s first hereditary transfer of power.

Associated Press Writer Sangwon Yoon contributed to this report.

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