North Korea's Kim arrives in Russia for talks: Kremlin
North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il on Saturday arrived in his armoured train in Russia and plans to meet President Dmitry Medvedev, the Kremlin said.
During the visit, his first since 2002, Kim is expected to meet with the Kremlin chief for talks in Siberia to discuss North Korea's nuclear programme, bilateral economic projects and a worsening food crisis in the isolated state.
"A meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kim Jong-ll will be the main event of the visit," the Kremlin said in a statement, saying Kim would also visit the Far Eastern and Siberian regions.
The Kremlin did not release further details but a local official in the Far East told AFP Kim's train crossed the border earlier in the day.
Kim last travelled to the Cold War ally in 2002 when he met then president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok.
This time Kim is expected to meet with Medvedev in the Siberian city of Ulan Ude near Lake Baikal later this week.
The visit comes as fears mount of a worsening hunger crisis in the Stalinist state, putting at risk hundreds of thousands of people.
The Russian foreign ministry said on Friday that Moscow was sending up to 50,000 tonnes of wheat to North Korea to help it cope with an "acute shortage of food supplies."
The situation has become so dire that an increasing number of North Koreans have resorted to eating grass, the European Commission has said.
Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said Kim's latest visit to Russia was aimed at obtaining food aid and economic assistance.
Moscow's support for a third-generation father-to-son succession by his youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong-Un and Russia's cooperation in resuming the stalled six-party talks will also be on the agenda, he said.
A flurry of diplomatic efforts have been under way to resume the disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the United States.
Moscow boasts historically close ties to the communist state and Kim's visit is expected to be touted as a diplomatic coup for Moscow keen to promote itself as a rare negotiator capable of dealing with pariah regimes.
In May, Medvedev offered his Western colleagues help in negotiating an end to a military conflict in Libya in North Africa.
Officials in the Pacific region including the governor and Kremlin's envoy held a welcome ceremony for Kim in Khasan district, district head Alexander Naryzhny, who attended the ceremony, told AFP.
Kim, who is known to dislike air travel due to security concerns, arrived in Khasan district after crossing the Tumangan river at 12 pm local time (0100 GMT), Naryzhny said.
He said he was unaware of the North Korean leader's programme in Russia, adding he did not leave his train upon arrival.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing informed sources, said Kim was expected to visit a dam in Ussuriysk, a town near Vladivostok, later in the day. It said, citing an informed source in Moscow, that Kim would meet Medvedev in Ulan Ude on Tuesday.
Yonhap also said the North Korean leader may also meet with Prime Minister Putin as he plans to remain in the country for about a week.
Kim and Medvedev were widely expected to hold a bilateral summit in or near the Russian Far Eastern port of Vladivostok earlier this summer.
A Kremlin official was quoted as saying at that time that Kim had cancelled his plans to come to Russia due to media leaks that he would be travelling.
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.
© 2011 AFP