NKorea's Kim in Russia on first visit since 2002

20th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il arrived in Russia on Saturday on his first visit since 2002 for talks with President Dmitry Medvedev, the Kremlin said, amid Pyongyang's bid for outside help in the country's food crisis.

The reclusive Kim who travelled in his armoured train, will visit Siberia and the Far East, it added.

"A meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kim Jong-ll will be the main event of the visit," a Kremlin statement said.

Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency also confirmed Kim's arrival in a brief statement saying the visit was "unofficial".

Talks are expected to focus on North Korea's nuclear programme, energy and other economic projects and worsening food shortages in Kim's isolated state. His arrival comes a day after the Russian foreign ministry said Moscow was sending up to 50,000 tonnes of wheat to help North Korea cope with an "acute shortage of food supplies."

A Kremlin spokeswoman, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the meeting between Medvedev, 45, and Kim, 69, was slated for the "middle of the week".

Citing security concerns, she declined to give further details, saying only Kim will stay for about a week to visit Siberia and the Far East and did not plan to travel to Moscow.

Kim is widely expected to meet with Medvedev in the Siberian city of Ulan Ude near Lake Baikal.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing an informed source in Moscow, said that Kim would meet Medvedev in Ulan Ude on Tuesday. It said Kim was also expected to visit a dam in Ussuriysk, a town near the Pacific port of Vladivostok.

Kim last travelled to the Cold War ally in 2002 when he met then president Vladimir Putin, 58, in Vladivostok.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP on Saturday a meeting between Putin and Kim was not scheduled.

The visit comes at a sensitive time for the two countries. Russia is heading into crucial presidential polls in 2012, in which either Putin or Medvedev would run.

North Korea's food crisis, meanwhile, has put hundreds of thousands of people at risk in the Stalinist state.

The situation has become so dire that an increasing number of North Koreans have resorted to eating grass, the European Commission has said.

A professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, Yang Moo-Jin, said Kim's visit was aimed at obtaining more food aid and economic assistance from Russia.

Kim was also expected to seek Moscow's support for a third-generation father-to-son succession by Kim's youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong-Un, as well as Russia's help in trying to start up stalled talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

Pyongyang stormed out of the six-party negotiations -- grouping the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia -- in April 2009 and conducted its second nuclear test a month later, but has expressed a desire to return to the forum.

Moscow, keen to promote itself as a negotiator capable of dealing with so-called pariah regimes, is expected to tout Kim's visit as a diplomatic coup.

In May, Medvedev offered the West help in trying to mediate in Libya between rebels and Moamer Khadafi's regime in Tripoli.

Officials in Russia's Pacific region, including a local governor and a Kremlin envoy, held a welcome ceremony for Kim in the Khasan border district, district head Alexander Naryzhny, who attended the ceremony, told AFP.

Kim, known to dislike air travel for security reasons, crossed the Tumangan river into Russia at 0100 GMT, according to Naryzhny who said Kim did not leave his train upon arrival.

Kim and Medvedev had been expected to hold a bilateral summit in or near Vladivostok earlier this summer. A Kremlin official was quoted as saying at that time that Kim had cancelled out due to media leaks about the visit.

The impoverished communist country has relied heavily on international aid to feed its 24 million people since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the mid 1990s.

In May, Kim visited China, a third visit in just over a year to his country's sole major ally and economic lifeline.

© 2011 AFP

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