North Korea is one of the world's most isolated countries and the convention is the first of its kind in decades [AFP]

North Korea has finished preparing for a key meeting of its ruling communist party, a South Korean official has said, but there it was still unclear when it would get under way.

The Workers' Party Convention, the first of its type since 1966, is widely expected to confirm the youngest son of leader Kim Jong-Il as his eventual successor.

Official state media in North Korea said the convention in Pyongyang, the capital, was slated for "early September" but it did not provide specifics.

"It looks like the city and provincial-level delegates' elections have been finished," said Chun Hae-Sung, a spokesman for South's Korea's unification ministry, which handles cross-border relations.

"There have been numerous reports about recent flood damage in the country, but it looks like all the preparatory steps for the meeting have been taken regardless."

Swiss-educated son

Rodong Sinmun, the North's ruling party newspaper, said party delegates from all corners of the country were gathering in the capital.

"A historical moment that will open a significant new chapter in the history of our party is about to come," the newspaper reported on Monday.

"The people's hearts awaiting the revolutionary, festive occasion heat up due to their joy and happiness."

Posters promoting the convention have been hung around Pyongyang and troops, artillery and tanks were said to be massing outside the city.

Little is known about Kim Jong Un, the Swiss-educated youngest son of the current leader, who is expected by analysts to take over from Kim in the politically isolated communist state.

'Revolutionary occasion' 

Good Friends, a South Korean welfare group which has cross-border contacts, said that the ruling party's main session is expected to take place on Wednesday, a day before North Korea celebrates the anniversary of its founding on September 9, 1948. 

Thousands of people rallied over the weekend waving red and pink plastic flowers in an apparent rehearsal for the main event, China's Xinhua News Agency said.

The convention follows an unusual trip Kim made recently to China, where he met with Hu Jintao, China's president, in what was seen by some as preparation for a change in North Korea's leadership.

China, North Korea's main ally, provides the country with much of its trade and diplomatic support.

Kim is believed to have speeded up succession plans after reportedly suffering a stroke in August 2008.

The convention comes amid tensions with the United States and the international community over North Korea's nuclear programme, and with authorities in Seoul over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

Source: Agencies