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SEOUL — Kim Jong Il's son could face a military coup, if not some other threat to his power, when -and if- he takes control of North Korea, analysts say.

The ailing Kim reportedly named the youngest of his three sons, Kim Jong Un, as his successor. Little is known about the younger Kim, who is believed to be 26 or 27 years old, educated in Switzerland and eager to improve his English proficiency. But his youth and lack of political experience mean he could end up as a figurehead, without the complete control over North Korea that his father has.

"He may end up being an important player, but he's not going to be the only player," said Brendan Howe, a professor of international relations at Troy University.

Howe said Kim Jong Un could eventually secure some power and authority, and perhaps even be invited to join the military leaders in control of the country. He said it was notable that Kim Jong Un was recently appointed to North Korea's National Defense Commission "alongside a bunch of generals."

"He could be brought in to be the figurehead, and to give the generals legitimacy," he said. But in a strict Confucian society that values age, Howe said, some won't want Kim Jong Il's young son to end up as supreme leader.

"My money is actually on a military junta taking over, a group of military commanders sharing the power," he said.

Some doubt reports that Kim Jong Un will succeed his father.

"I still don't believe he is selected to become the next leader. He's just 27 years old," said Kim Taewoo, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

If he succeeds his father, Kim Jong Un will be the third ruler in the communist dynasty. But his rise to power would come under vastly different circumstances. His grandfather, Kim Il Sung, appointed Kim Jong Il as heir years before his death.

"Kim Il Sung was strong, and Kim Jong Il had enough time to be educated as the next leader," Kim Tae-woo said.

Kim Jong Il reportedly suffered a stroke last year, and recent photos show him looking thin and weak. If Kim Jong Un replaces his father, the personality cult that helped prop up his father and grandfather will likely end because he doesn't share their power, personality or policymaking ability, Kim Tae-woo said.

The U.S. and South Korea should expect instability in the North when the younger Kim takes over — through a number of possibilities including a military coup or Chinese intervention, he said. Or, Kim Jong Un may be named the official leader but will be supported behind the scenes by others, possibly his uncles.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, said information out of North Korea is often unreliable, and he doubts reports that say Kim Jong Un is the designated successor.

According to South Korean media, lawmakers on a National Assembly intelligence committee were briefed Tuesday that Kim Jong Un had been named successor. Several government agencies said they could not confirm those reports, but an aide for lawmaker Park Ji-won said he attended the briefing and was told Kim's youngest son would replace him. Among Kim Jong Il's sons, Kim Jong Un is considered to be most like his father in personality and leadership style, said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the inter-Korean relations program at the Sejong Institute.

But the younger Kim's exposure to the outside world will make him a better ruler who is possibly open to talks with the West, though he is unlikely to open the communist nation to the outside world, he said.

He said Kim Jong Un was chosen over his oldest brother, who was not considered a legitimate heir by Kim Il Sung because he disliked the oldest son's mother, an actress Kim Jong Il had an affair with and then married. Kim Jong Il believes his secondoldest son, born to a different mother, is too effeminate, Cheong said.

He added the military will fight to put a leader of its own in power after Kim Jong Il dies.

Because they expect an internal fight, he said North Korea won't start a war with South Korea or other countries. When Kim Jong Il took over, he had a network of political contacts to support him, though not a strong connection with the military — a powerful player in North Korea's power structure, said David Garretson, a professor of international relations at the University of Maryland University College.

The younger Kim might be able to pick up his father's political supporters, Garretson said, but whoever succeeds Kim Jong Il has to have the military on his side. And there could be behind-the-scenes jockeying for power that leaves the military with more control over the rogue nation. "Would he be a puppet of the military because he's so young?" Garretson said. "Whether they (the military) end up more important in North Korea than they are very much depends on whether his son takes over and who advises or helps his son."

Stars and Stripes reporter Jon Rabiroff contributed to this story.

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