VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, AFP
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il crossed into Russia early Thursday and boarded a trans-Siberian train for a 10-day journey to Moscow, where he will hold a historic summit with President Vladimir Putin.
It is the first time Kim has officially visited any country other than mainland China.
The reclusive Stalinist dictator was welcomed at the Khasan border post in Russia’s Far East by Putin’s regional representative, Konstantin Pulikovsky, who is to accompany the North Korean leader on his train voyage.
“Putin ordered me to travel with Kim Jong-il until we reach Moscow,” Pulikovsky told reporters hours before Kim crossed the border, adding that Kim would arrive in Moscow on Aug. 4 or 5.
The special armored train carrying Kim pulled into Khasan at 8:00 a.m., where a young woman in a white costume handed him a bouquet of red flowers.
Speaking through a translator, Kim enquired about Putin’s health.
“Thank you, he’s in good health,” Pulikovsky answered in televised footage of Kim’s stopover.
Kim, whose leisurely journey to Moscow will cover 9,500 kilometers, always travels by train, reportedly because he is afraid of flying.
His father — North Korea’s founder, the late Kim Il-sung in 1986 made the same extended train journey when on an official visit to Russia.
Russian news agencies said that the special train, 21 carriages long, was manned by North Korean attendants and doctors, although the train drivers were Russian.
Officials said the North Korean leader first planned to visit Russia’s far eastern city of Khabarovsk, where his father studied at college and served in the army.
His train was scheduled to arrive at Khabarovsk at 1200 a.m.