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North Korea drama: Where are Kim Jong-un's brothers?

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Kim Jong-nam, mentioned as a possible successor before Japanese immigration officials in 2001 nabbed him at Tokyo’s Narita Airport trying to enter Japan with a fake Dominican passport, has lived for years in the gambling center of Macao on the southeastern China coast.  His excuse that he wanted to take his 4-year-old son to Disneyland did not impress the Japanese authorities, who finally sent him on to China after holding him for several days.

After that, Kim Jong-nam appeared to have been on the outs with his father. He was reported in the media here to have heard of his father’s death from Chinese, not North Korean, officials while visiting Beijing but was reportedly banned from flying to Pyongyang and is believed to have returned to Macao.

Before the incident at Narita, so worried was his step mother, the mother of Jong-un and Jong-chul, that Jong-nam was a possible rival for power with her own sons that she is rumored to have wanted to have him assassinated during a trip to Europe some time before she passed away in Paris.

Kim Jong-nam may have fallen still deeper into disfavor after a Japanese newspaper early this year quoted him as saying “hereditary succession” did not “fit socialism and my father was against it” but it “was done to stabilize the framework of the nation.”

“He’s talked about succession in unflattering terms,” says Mr. Breen. “That regime is very unflattering to those who betray them.” He notes that a nephew of Kim Il-sung was assassinated by North Korean agents in 1997 after defecting to South Korea and writing a tell-all book about his uncle.

Eric Clapton and the other brother

The case of Kim Jong-chul, as the full blood older brother of Kim Jong-un, is quite different. “He definitely stays in Pyongyang,” says Baek Sung-joo, director of the security and strategy center of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. “He has a close relationship with Jong-nam.

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