North Korea to hold special party conference ahead of satellite launch

Kim Jong Un (3rd R) attends a memorial service on the 100th day since the death of the late leader Kim Jong Il on March 25.

Story highlights

  • North Korea says it will hold a ruling party conference on April 11
  • It comes ahead of a major anniversary and a planned satellite launch
  • The conference is seen as a way to consolidate Kim Jong Un's leadership

North Korea said Monday that a special conference of its ruling Workers' Party would take place next week, an event expected to solidify the authority of its new leader ahead of a controversial rocket launch.

The meeting of party delegates, announced by state media, also comes just ahead of a significant anniversary for the secretive, nuclear-armed state -- the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea.

At the conference on April 11, Kim Il Sung's grandson, Kim Jong Un, is likely to be named secretary-general of the Workers' Party, a key post that would underline his status as "supreme leader" of the insular regime, said Chung-In Moon, professor of political science at Yonsei University in Seoul.

That appointment would be "a very important signal that he's consolidating power and positions from an institutional point of view," Moon said.

It would also mean that Kim Jong Un would ex officio become chairman of the party's central military committee, following in the footsteps of his father, Kim Jong Il, who died in December.

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The expected conferring of the new titles on Kim Jong Un is scheduled to happen just before the planned launch of a satellite by Pyongyang between April 12 and 16, using a long-range rocket.

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The announcement last month of the satellite launch -- which countries like the United States and South Korea see as a cover for a ballistic missile test -- ratcheted up tensions in the region and prompted Washington to suspend a recent deal to supply food aid to the North.

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    International leaders have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, but Pyongyang has refused to back down, insisting that the operation is for peaceful purposes.

    The last time Pyongyang carried out what it described as a satellite launch, in April 2009, the U.N. Security Council condemned the action and demanded that it not be repeated.

    Part of the significance of this launch is its timing to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, who ruled the Communist state for more than four decades. His birthday on April 15, known as the "Day of the Sun," is a key public holiday in the North Korean calendar.

    By holding the party conference a few days before that day, the regime is probably aiming to ensure that Kim Jong Un holds the main titles in time for the big event, Moon said.

    He is already described by in official North Korean discourse as the "supreme leader" of the party, state and army.

    Moon noted that it is still unclear how directly the young Kim, thought to be in his late 20s, in involved in policy decisions.

    So far, Kim Jong Un, as the direct descendant of the country's founder, appears to be "reigning," while powerful senior officials in the regime like his uncle, Jang Song Taek, seem to be doing the "ruling," said Moon.