SEOUL — North Korea’s ailing leader Kim Jong-il may die in two or three years and this could spark upheavals such as a coup, mass unrest or massacres in the communist nation, a South Korean state think tank says.
In a rare report forecasting possible regime collapse in the North, the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) also warned that such internal unrest could prompt the North to start a limited war on the Korean Peninsula.
KINU’s “Study on Unification” was released this week, days after Pyongyang reacted angrily to reports of a separate Seoul government contingency plan to handle unrest in the North.
“There is a high possibility that Kim Jong-il may not exist in the North by 2012,” KINU said in its report.
The North’s stated goal is to become a powerful and prosperous nation by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-Sung.
Kim Jong-il, who succeeded his father, will be 68 next month. He is widely thought to have suffered a stroke in August 2008 and is also reportedly suffering from diabetes and heart disease.
“The post-Kim Jong-Il era would likely see a change in power elites, possibly including a military coup and upheavals such as civil unrest and popular uprisings, massacres and massive outflows of refugees,” it said.
The report presented three scenarios for life after Kim — a third-generation power succession by his son Jong-Un, a collective military leadership or the rise of a single ruler from the military.
It said a post-Kim power vacuum would likely aggravate shortages and corruption, sparking civil unrest and a breakdown in order, giving the military an excuse to step in.
Whatever happens in the North after Kim Jong-il dies, South Korea should pursue a policy of non-intervention and respect its people’s rights to self-determination, the report said.
Discussion of its leader’s fate is taboo in the North and some analysts said the KINU report could anger the isolated regime.
On Friday the North’s powerful National Defence Commission (NDC) led by Kim Jong-il threatened to break off all dialogue with South Korea unless Seoul apologizes for an alleged contingency plan to tackle regime collapse.
South Korean media has reported the existence of the plan, which has not been confirmed by the government.
The NDC denounced the alleged plan as a “crime” and said it would stage a “holy war” against those who drew it up, accusing the conservative Seoul government of seeking reunification through absorption.
“Making such a sensitive (KINU) report public in the South is likely to irritate North Korea greatly,” Kim Yeon-Chul of the private Hankyoreh Peace Institute told AFP.
Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies said the KINU report “touched a raw nerve among North Koreans” by considering the sensitive topic of regime collapse, and could bring an angry response.