N Korean leader begins Russia trip
North Korea's reclusive leader began his first official visit to any country apart from China on Thursday, rattling across the border for a marathon journey across Russia in an armoured train.
Kim Jong-Il's visit was shrouded in mystery. The Kremlin officially announced he was coming only minutes before his train crossed the two countries' tiny common border.
Reuters watched his 21-car, Japanese built armoured express train pass the station in the Russian far-eastern city of Ussurisk on Thursday afternoon, while police guarded the tracks.
Police forced hundreds of passengers off the platform before the train passed by at about 40 km per hour. Two locomotives barrelled on some distance ahead, "in case there are mines or something," an FSB security policeman told Reuters.
President Vladimir Putin's representative in Russia's Far East met Kim at the Khasan border station, where a special pavilion was built for a visit by his father, Kim Il-Sung, in the 1980s. Neither Kim nor his father was ever known to have flown.
Russian RTR state television showed pictures of Putin's representative, Konstantin Pulikovsky, greeting Kim on a railway platform with traditional Russian bread and salt.
A woman presented Kim with red roses, and RTR said the same had also presented flowers to Kim Il-Sung years ago. The bushy-haired Korean leader, wearing a black version of his trademark open-necked tunic, accepted the flowers with a cheerful smile.
"All the official documents will be brought for meetings to take place in Moscow," Pulikovsky told RTR. "I have been instructed by the president of Russia to escort the leader of the People's Democratic Republic of Korea to Moscow."
Moscow is no longer Stalinist North Korea's military patron, and is now a healthy trade partner of the capitalist South. But Russian officials believe they can play an important role in efforts to bring a thaw to the divided peninsula and draw the North out of its isolation.
Among other plans in the works are a rail link over the North, which would open a trade route between South Korea and Europe across Russia's hundred-year-old Trans-Siberian railway.
Kim's Trans-Siberian journey should take a week. Itar-Tass news agency said he would reach Moscow on August 4 or 5.
Pulikovsky's spokesman said Kim did not plan to stop in any major Russian cities, but "wants to visit some small towns linked to his father."
source: The Daily Star International News, July 27, 2001