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NKorea leader might be on China visit

AFP | August 30 2006

North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il might be visiting China amid tensions over the communist country's nuclear weapons drive, news reports said here Wednesday.

A special train that Kim uses to visit neighbouring countries was seen crossing the border into China on Tuesday, the Dong-A daily and YTN television quoted unidentified government officials as saying.

"We have received an intelligence report that a special train was headed for China Tuesday," a government official was quoted as saying.

"However we have no confirmation from the Chinese government as to whether Kim Jong-Il is on a China visit," he told Dong-A.

South Korean government officials said they had no information concerning the special train or Kim's reported visit to China, which if confirmed would be his first there since January.

"We have no information. We are checking the reports," a spokesman of the unification ministry said. The foreign ministry and spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, declined comment on the possible visit.

Kim is known to have visited China four times since 2000 and each time Pyongyang and Beijing acknowledged Kim's trip only after he returned home.

The reports come after China, North Korea's closest ally, reportedly invited Kim to visit "as soon as possible" amid reports that Pyongyang was preparing for a nuclear bomb testing.

South Korea has in recent days stepped up monitoring of North Korean nuclear activities, while the United States has publicly warned Pyongyang, which declared last year it had nuclear weapons, against proceeding with a test.

Beijing "has asked Kim to visit China as soon as possible, as it believes such a visit will help resolve problems" related to North Korea's July missile tests, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said last week.

North Korea sparked regional concern and international condemnation for test-firing seven missiles that splashed down in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

The United States has stepped up pressure on China to take stronger action over the missiles and urge North Korea to return to six-nation talks on ending its nuclear weapons programme.

During his week-long visit in January, Kim discussed with Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao, returning to the talks which have stalled since November over Pyongyang's objections to US financial sanctions against it.

Hosted by China, the talks also include the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

Kim agreed at the January meeting "to maintain the stand of seeking a negotiated peaceful solution to the issue", Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said.

Speculation about Kim's possible China visit has been rampant after Pyongyang warned on Saturday it would take "all necessary counter-measures" against the US financial sanctions.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said, in a first response to intensifying US hunts for Pyongyang-owned bank accounts overseas, that Washington was ratcheting up the pressure in vain.

He said the US Treasury Department was tracing North Korea-opened bank accounts in "at least 10 countries" in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian states as well as Mongolia and Russia.


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