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Officials hunt for whereabouts of Kim

Media guesses leader in China or Russia

Officials hunt for whereabouts of Kim

Mystery surrounded the destination of North Korea's Kim Jong-il yesterday, a day after media reported that the secretive communist leader had entered China on board his armored train.

One source in Beijing had said Kim was on his way to Russia.

But South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the North Korean leader was in Shanghai - China's main showcase for the kind of market-oriented economic reforms he has so far just tinkered with - and was due to leave later in the day.

Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministry officials declined to comment on his whereabouts, and South Korean officials said they were struggling to confirm various reports.

Media reports and diplomats say Kim - like his late father, state founder Kim Il-sung - has an aversion to flying and has almost always traveled by train under tight secrecy on his rare visits abroad.

His 2004 trip to China, Pyongyang's main ally and source of aid, was not officially confirmed until he had returned home. His trip to Moscow in 2001 involved 24 days of traveling as he dined on delicacies and followed news using special communications. It was not clear what had prompted Kim to travel now.

If he is heading for Russia, he could be seeking again to balance the North's relations between Beijing and Russia, which under President Vladimir Putin has been more friendly towards the North than it was during the immediate post-communist years.

If Kim is stopping in China, he is likely to be studying economic reforms, seeking more aid and also support amid his standoff with Washington over his nuclear deterrent and U.S. sanctions, according to diplomats and North Korea experts.

The Korea Times newspaper said a China trip would most probably be linked to U.S. financial sanctions.

Washington has cracked down on firms suspected of involvement in counterfeiting, money laundering and the drug trade by the North, which it says funds the North's nuclear programs.

Updated : 2021-07-24 08:41 GMT+08:00