THE place where a young Kim Jong Un is believed to have gone to boarding school as a child has offered its services as a mediator in the growing North Korean missile crisis.
Swiss President Doris Leuthard said she believed the neutral country, along with Sweden, could play a role “behind the curtain” to facilitate dialogue between North Korea, the US and South Korea.
Speaking in the city where Kim Jong Un is believed to have attended boarding school as a child and honed his love for basketball, she warned of “overreactions” amid growing tension.
“I think it really is time for dialogue,” Leuthard told a news conference in Bern.
“We are ready to offer our role for good services as a mediator. I think in the upcoming weeks a lot will depend on how the US and China can have an influence in this crisis. That’s why I think Switzerland and Sweden can have a role behind the curtain.”
She said “sanctions did not change many things” and part of the task now is to find a location for countries to meet.
“I think that’s our role to look at what kind of possibilities we find. Because, well, Twitter won’t be an adequate instrument … This must be very discreet,” she said in reference to President Trump’s warnings often issue via the social media platform.
Her comments come after North Korean chairman Kim Jong Un defied global leaders to test a hydrogen bomb over the weekend in a sign he is not backing down despite tougher sanctions.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said North Korea was “begging for war” and the UN should implement the “strongest possible response.”
“Despite our efforts the North Korea nuclear program is more advanced and more dangerous than ever,” Haley told the council. “War is never something the United States wants. We don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited.”
If Switzerland does become a mediator it would be a return to the country for Kim-Jong Un, who spent part of his childhood in Bern studying at an international school under a pseudonym, Pak Un.
He is believed to have attended Liebefeld-Steinhölzli school between 1998 and 2000 where he was registered as a child of North Korean embassy workers.
Former students, who did not realise his identity at the time, told of a funny boy who was competitive and loved playing basketball.
Chef Joao Micaelo, who still lives in Bern and was friends with the boy he now believes is the North Korean leader, said he was a “normal guy” interested in sport, movies and computers.
“He was competitive at sports. He didn’t like to lose, like any of us. For him, basketball was everything,” Micaelo told The Telegraph in 2010.
“He played basketball, he had basketball games on his PlayStation. The whole world for him was just basketball all the time,” he said.
“One day, he did actually say to me, ‘My father is the Leader of North Korea’, but I just thought he was making it up. Then a few days later he said he showed me a photo of him with this guy who I now realise was Kim Jong-il. But I knew his father was a diplomat, so I thought it was just some photo from a government event they had attended.
“Otherwise, he hardly ever talked about his home life, although he did play the North Korean music a lot, in particular the national anthem. I can still remember it now.”
Another former classmate Nikola Kovacevic told The Washington Post in 2009 that the child known as Pak Un wore $200 Nike shoes that other children “could only dream of”. He reportedly lived on a quiet street with two pizza shops on it and abruptly left in the middle of the school year.
Liebefeld-Steinhölzli school refused to confirm or deny the young North Korean leader had attended the school, telling news.com.au “we don’t answer questions about this”.
It’s believed Kim Jong Un’s brother, Kim Jong Chol, attended a different school in the area under the name Pak Chol, who also refused to confirm attendance.
“I certainly don’t have any records in that regard,” a spokesman said.
Local education administrator Ueli Studer told Reuters in 2011 a student known only as Pak Un who was registered as the child of a North Korean embassy worker attended the Steinhoelzli school from 1998 until late 2000.
“Pak Un attended a class for non-German speaking pupils but then quickly moved over to another class. He was described as well-integrated, diligent and ambitious. His hobby was basketball,” Mr Studer said.
South Korean officials believe North Korea is preparing for further tests in the lead up to its Foundation Day anniversary on Saturday.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on the UN Security Council to consider further measures to force North Korea to “change course”.
“We welcome China’s intent to implement sanctions, and urge it to use its substantial economic and political leverage to rein in North Korea’s actions,” Mr Turnbull said.
President Trump has said all military options are on the table and the US was considering “stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.”