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North Korean leader begins rail trip to Moscow

Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il's visit to Russia is shrouded in mystery  


VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has crossed into Russia's Far East to start a marathon train journey to Moscow for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

"A few minutes ago the train crossed the border and stopped at the customs point to undergo necessary procedures," Polina Statsurenko, a spokesman for the customs office at the North Korean border, said at 9:25 a.m. Thursday (2225 GMT, Wednesday).

RIA news agency said that after a brief stop, the train moved further into Russian territory where Kim was met by Putin's representative, Konstantin Pulikovsky.

Kim was expected in the Russian capital by August 4.

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Kim's trip to Russia, agreed during Putin's visit to North Korea last year, has been shrouded in mystery. Kim has only visited China since taking over after the death of his father Kim Il-sung in 1994.

Kim's long trip along the Trans-Siberian railway coincides with the visit to Moscow of U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Rice is in Moscow to examine a compromise over U.S. missile plans now banned under the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty between Washington and Moscow.

Russian officials have said U.S. missile defence plans were unlikely to be discussed during Kim's visit.

Internet site Presscenter.ru said Kims's train, which has 17 cars, will travel non-stop all the way to Moscow. Kim will be accompanied by a team of 150 people.

But the RIA news agency said Kim was going to visit several Russian cities on his way to Moscow. His first stop would be late on Thursday in the city of Khabarovsk on the Chinese border, it said.

Russian internet site Strana.ru reported that Kim was expected to make a stopover in the Siberian city of Omsk on August 1-2 to visit a tank-building factory.

Reuters contributed to this report.







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