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(4th LD) N. Korean leader's train appears to be heading for Beijing: source

All Headlines 21:46 May 21, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with direction of Kim's train in paras 1-4; CHANGES headline, dateline)

SHENYANG, China, May 21 (Yonhap) -- A special train carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il headed southwest Saturday after passing through this industrial city, raising speculation that he may have a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing, sources said.

Kim, who left Changchun, an industrial city in northeastern China, earlier Saturday, had been expected to stop over in Shenyang for inspection of industrial facilities. However, his train passed through the city's train station at around 7 p.m. and sped away in the direction of Beijing, said multiple sources, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A train trip between Shenyang and Beijing usually takes six to seven hours, which means that the reclusive North Korean leader may arrive in the Chinese capital early Sunday morning, if it is his next destination.

Kim toured a car plant Saturday morning in Changchun, the second stop on his secretive trip to China.

In what appears to be a trip with focus on economic cooperation with China, the 69-year-old North Korean leader began the secretive journey on Friday after crossing the border. On early Saturday, he toured a car plant in Changchun of China's second-largest automaker by sale, FAW.

Kim's trip, his third in one year, has been shrouded in secrecy. Although his presence in China has been photographed by media, neither China nor North Korea has confirmed it. The two countries usually confirm the leader's trip only after it's over apparently due to security concerns.

In August last year, Kim met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Changchun.

The trip comes as Kim is grooming his youngest son, Jong-un, as his successor and seeking to win Beijing's support for the power succession plan.

Kim, who inherited power from his late father, the North's founder Kim Il-sung, has been accelerating steps to extend his family dynasty into a third generation since he suffered a stroke in 2008.

He named Jong-un vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party and a four-star general last September in what analysts believe is the clearest move yet to make him the North's next leader.

Many had previously believed that the junior Kim would visit China with or without his father, noting that he reportedly has a standing invitation to make a trip.

However, the junior Kim was not on an official list of the North's entourage with about 70 members, an indication that he may not be traveling with his father.

Also Saturday, leaders of South Korea, China and Japan toured Japan's Fukushima City, home to a crippled nuclear power plant, ahead of their annual tripartite summit in Tokyo on Sunday. North Korea is expected to be on the agenda for talks between the leaders of South Korea and China on the sidelines of the trilateral summit.

Separately, the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan met in Tokyo Friday to discuss Kim's trip and stalled six-party talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs, according to a Foreign Ministry official in Seoul. The official did not elaborate and asked not to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to media.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Friday that he did not have much to comment on Kim's trip, noting Washington doesn't have any confirmation.

Toner, however, said Washington will send a delegation to North Korea next week to assess the food situation and discuss human rights conditions in the North.

There are no signs of progress in international efforts to resume the stalled disarmament-for-aid talks that involve the two Koreas, host China, the U.S., Japan and Russia.


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