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(3rd LD) N. Korean leader Kim believed to be in China: official

All Headlines 18:19 May 03, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with reports of additional signs of Kim's arrival in China in paras 8-10)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL/BEIJING, May 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is believed to have arrived in the Chinese port city of Dalian after crossing the border into China by train early Monday morning, sources in Seoul and Beijing said.

"We have confirmed the arrival of a special train at Dandong, and we believe it is highly likely that Chairman Kim was on board," an official in Seoul said, referring to the North Korean leader by his official title as the head of the National Defense Commission.

A convoy of 15 limousines was later seen arriving at a hotel in Dalian, shortly after the North Korean train arrived.

Traffic in the city was halted for nearly an hour until the convoy arrived at the hotel.

Earlier, the 17-carriage train arrived in the border city of Dandong around 5:20 a.m. (local time) Monday, one day after diplomatic sources here and in China said Kim's trip was imminent.

All regular passenger trains from North Korea to Dandong arrive in the afternoon and usually have only four or five coaches.

Kim has visited China four times since 2000, by train every time. He is said to be afraid of flying.

Kim's presence in China could not be officially confirmed, but a source in Dalian said he saw the North Korean leader at Dalian's Furama Hotel.

The hotel was closed to regular guests, and the source said the North Korean delegates had an entire wing of the hotel reserved until 7 p.m. Tuesday.

A local resident in Dalian also quoted a police officer there as saying that the earlier traffic control was due to Kim's arrival in the Chinese city.

It was not clear why Kim would choose Dalian as his first stop in his first trip to China in over four years. Watchers say it may have to do with North Korea's plan to develop its Rajin port.

Located in the northeastern part of North Korea where its borders meet with China and Russia, Rajin and the adjacent town of Sonbong were established in December 1991 as North Korea's first free trade zone.

Media reports in March said North Korea agreed to extend Rajin Port lease contracts with China and Russia.

The North Korean leader's trip to China has long been anticipated by Seoul and Washington, who initially hoped that the visit would be followed by Pyongyang's announcement of its return to six-party talks on its denuclearization.

But prospects for the negotiations have dimmed with suspicions that the North may have been behind the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship on March 26 that killed 46 young sailors.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan earlier said his country will oppose resuming the nuclear negotiations if the communist North is found to have been involved in the sinking of the 1,200-ton warship, Cheonan, because the North "must be made to pay for its actions."

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was in Shanghai last week, where he met his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao for talks that addressed the Cheonan tragedy.

At the summit, held on the sidelines of the opening of the Shanghai Expo, Hu expressed condolences to the families of the dead sailors and said his country believed Seoul's investigation into the sinking was both "scientific" and "objective."

Military investigators in Seoul said an underwater "non-contact" blast likely caused the sinking, deepening suspicions of a torpedo attack.

"We have exchanged our opinions on the current situation on the Korean Peninsula with China through various channels, such as the South Korea-China summit held in Shanghai last week," foreign ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun told a press briefing in Seoul Monday.

"The government has also relayed its position on the seriousness of the Cheonan incident, and we believe the Chinese government fully understands our position," he added.

The North Korean leader, if indeed in China, is expected to reach Beijing within days for a summit with the Chinese president.

Kim is expected mainly to seek Chinese assistance for his impoverished nation, which is under strengthened U.N. sanctions imposed last year after its missile and nuclear tests.

The North has said it will not return to the nuclear negotiations until the removal of the U.N. sanctions and the start of discussions for a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula.

The nuclear talks, involving both South and North Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, were last held in December 2008.

South Korean officials are also paying close attention to whether the North Korean leader is accompanied by his youngest son and heir-apparent, Jong-un, a move that would confirm the junior Kim's status as his successor.


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