Kim Jong-il rolls into Russia


North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-il has begun a visit to the Russian far east.

The plane-shy leader’s private train crossed the two countries’ border at Khasan where he was met by regional officials as the train’s wheels were changed to fit the Russian gauge.

Mr Kim was accompanied by senior officials including the army’s chief of general staff, Kim Yong Chung.

He is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the region’s main city, Vladivostok, on Friday.

Russian officials reported earlier that special care had been taken to ensure the North Korean leader’s train would not snarl up rail traffic in the region after a similar visit last summer caused widespread disruption.

“The railway authorities have… given an assurance that the timetable will be drawn up so that passenger train schedules are not violated,” said Yevgeny Anoshin, a regional official in Vladivostok.

Mr Kim was due to travel on to the defence industry town of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, 900 km (560 miles) to the north, after an hour’s stopover at Khasan. He is expected to visit defence plants there.

The North Korean leader earlier sent a message to Mr Putin in which he talked of the two countries’ relations entering a new phase.

Russian diplomats said the main reason for the visit was for Mr Kim to witness Russia’s experience of economic reforms.

North Korea has recently introduced a number of economic changes, including price and wage hikes. Analysts suspect the measures are designed to lift production and rein in the black market rather than a genuine reform of the state-controlled system.

North Korea has also embarked on a number of new diplomatic initiatives in recent weeks – meeting South Korean officials, planning talks with Japan and offering to host a US delegation.

Correspondents say all Pyongyang’s moves are being scrutinised to see if its often erratic behaviour can be trusted.


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