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(3rd LD) S. Korea trying to verify reports of high-ranking N. Korean official's China visit

All Headlines 17:12 March 27, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 3 paras)

SEOUL/BEIJING, March 27 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government has been striving Tuesday to verify news reports that a high-ranking North Korean official, possibly leader Kim Jong-un, is visiting China.

The arrival of a special North Korean train in Beijing was reported on Monday.

"Our government is trying to thoroughly grasp the related situation, including whether the reports are true," a foreign ministry official said. "(But) whether Workers' Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un is visiting China has not been verified."

Vehicles belonging to the North Korean Embassy are parked outside of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, a ruling party building for legislative and ceremonial activities, on March 27, 2018. (Yonhap)

Another ministry official also said details of the train's arrival were not known. "The Chinese side does not appear to have provided related details."

One government source suggested that it might not be the chairman who is visiting China, saying, "There is not enough circumstantial evidence to indicate that Kim Jong-un is visiting China ... although the possibility cannot be ruled out."

Other officials added that regardless of whether Kim is indeed in China, it is a good sign that could add to the growing reconciliatory mood with North Korea. "North Korea could reach out to China and Russia in addition to South Korea and the United States from the perspective of foreign relations," one of them said.

(3rd LD) S. Korea trying to verify reports of high-ranking N. Korean official's China visit - 2

North Korea's state media, including the Rodong Sinmun newspaper and the Korean Central News Agency, have not published any reports on the move so far.

North Korean news media has a history of publishing its former leader's China visits but only after he nearly finished his trips, probably because of security reasons.

When the late North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, paid an informal visit to China in 2011, his travel was published by North Korean news outlets while he was on his way back to North Korea after finishing the seven-day trip.

China's foreign ministry also declined to confirm the trip.

Asked by Yonhap News to confirm whether Kim or other high-ranking North Korean officials, such as the leader's sister Yo-jong or nominal state head Kim Yong-nam, who represents the assembly, are visiting the country, the Chinese ministry said, "There is nothing we are aware of."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk in Seoul also declined to verify the move, saying only that, "Seen from the past record, the Chinese government has a precedent of officially announcing human exchanges like this at a (later) time when it is deemed appropriate."

Reuters later reported in a dispatch from Beijing that the train left the Chinese capital in the afternoon, citing a witness.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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