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North Korea mourns top military officer

From Brian Walker, CNN
Jo Myong-Rok, second right, at the 60th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on October 10, 2005.
Jo Myong-Rok, second right, at the 60th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on October 10, 2005.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • High ranking officials attend state funeral of the country's second-highest ranking military officer
  • In 2000, Jo became the first North Korean military officer ever to enter the U.S. Pentagon
  • Jo's death fuels speculation over leadership in North Korea as the "old guard' ages
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(CNN) -- High ranking officials in North Korea on Wednesday paid their respects during the state funeral of the country's second-highest ranking military officer, Jo Myong Rok, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Jo, 82, was vice marshal of the Korean People's Army. He died of a heart attack on Saturday, state media said.

The high-ranking army official made history in 2000 when he became the first North Korean military officer ever to enter the U.S. Pentagon, later meeting then-President Bill Clinton.

Jo's casket was carried by an armored car and escorted by motorcycles away from Pyongyang's Central Hall of Workers where mourners were permitted to gather, state media reported.

The country's longtime leader Kim Jong Il and his son Kim Jong Un were among members of the funeral committee, state media said.

Jo's death has fueled speculation over new leadership in North Korea.

"The old guard is fading in influence," said Scott Snyder, North Korea expert at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. "It's not clear if Kim Jong Un actually needs more titles to make it clear that he is on the rise," he said, referring to Kim Jong Il's son.

North Korea has been ruled by the Kim family since 1948, and it is widely anticipated that Kim Jong Un will eventually succeed his father, but little is known about the apparent successor.

The son of Kim's third wife, who died in 2004 from breast cancer, Kim Jong Un reportedly studied under a false name at the International School in Bern, Switzerland, before attending the Kim Il Sung military academy in Pyongyang.

Some North Korea analysts believe, on the other hand, that he may never have left North Korea.