Andrew Higgins examines Kim Jong Un's, the third son and heir apparent of Kim Jong Il, sojourn at a Swiss high school and speculates whether his experiences there will have an effect on his reign as North Korea's next leader.
LIEBEFELD, Switzerland -- In August 1998, as famine reached a terrible climax in North Korea, the destitute Asian nation enrolled a shy teenager in a Swiss state school. He arrived with a fake name, a collection of genuine, top-of-the-line Nike sneakers and a passion for American basketball.
"We only dreamed about having such shoes. He was wearing them," recalled Nikola Kovacevic, a former schoolmate of the curiously well-heeled North Korean. Each pair, estimates Kovacevic, cost more than $200 -- at least four times the average monthly salary in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, where perhaps 1 million people died as a result of food shortages in the mid- and late 1990s.
Today, the student -- who vanished from this sleepy Swiss district as mysteriously as he appeared -- is a key figure in a puzzle that U.S. and Asian intelligence services are scrambling to solve: Who will lead nuclear-armed North Korea -- and where to -- once its gravely ill leader, Kim Jong Il, passes from the scene?