Kim Jong-Il's 'very fun' Siberian great train ride

24th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

He's inspected a hydro-power plant and a supermarket, taken a dip in healing Siberian waters, sampled local fish and fine French wine and bowed to the giant Lenin head.

And North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il could not hide his satisfaction over a "very fun" train journey through the Russian wilderness.

"We are having a very fun journey," the straight-faced Kim on Wednesday told his host Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a Siberian garrison tucked in a pine forest some 5,550 kilometres (3,450 miles) east of Moscow.

Kim, who travels aboard his armoured train, rumbled for four days along the famed Trans-Siberian railway to meet the Kremlin chief for talks to win Russian economic and food aid for his reclusive state.

Russia, which usually has few qualms about accommodating even the most eccentric of friendly leaders' whims, pulled out all the stops for the high-profile visit.

For the summit with a leader famously concerned about his personal safety, Moscow threw open the doors of a high-security garrison outside the traditionally Buddhist city of Ulan-Ude.

Military officials told reporters at the scene that Kim was the first foreign leader to have been accorded access to the military base.

When Kim's old armoured Mercedes with no number plates pulled up at the summit venue at the Sosnovy Bor (Pine Forest) garrison, a beaming Medvedev personally came out to greet the rare guest.

As they shook hands, the 45-year-old Kremlin chief held the 69-year-old leader's elbow as the Kim appeared to show signs of fatigue after his four-day Siberian trek.

Dressed in his trademark khaki uniform, Kim walked slowly behind Medvedev and he also used help on the stairs.

Following the talks focused on energy cooperation and Pyongyang's nuclear programme, the two leaders watched military drills including commandos performing parachute jumps.

Russian soldiers could be seen holding exercises and crawling on their stomachs as they prepared to show off their skills.

A big white tent and two nomadic yurts -- a tribute to the Buryatia region's heritage -- were pitched up at the garrison for the top guest and his entourage dressed in black suits with small red pins.

The menu for the summit released by Russian officials included Kamchatka crab with avocado and lime, pancakes with salmon caviar and the local specialty omul fish with sun-dried tomatoes and thyme sauce. The meal was accompanied by fine wines including Chateau Giscours 2006 from French Bordeaux region of Margaux.

Before the summit talks, Kim toured Ulan-Ude and bowed in front of the giant Lenin head, the city's landmark monument still gracing the central square, a Russian official, who accompanied Kim, told AFP.

The North Korean supremo was also taken to a supermarket where he inspected various departments including the liquor section, the official said, adding that Kim boasted that Pyongyang stores carry more types of vegetable oil that could be found in the Ulan-Ude supermarket.

He also inquired about smoked salmon known as balyk, said local newspaper Baikal-Daily. "Good food," he smiled after touching the fish.

The newspaper, citing the supermarket's employees, said that while Kim toured the shelves, his entourage were buying bread and tinned goods.

Kim himself was given a gift basket that included a bottle of red wine, the regional official told AFP.

Kim had arrived in Ulan-Ude aboard his armoured train a day earlier on a week-long Trans-Siberian journey which started at the weekend when he crossed the border into Russia's Far East.

His journey has seen him enjoy varied excursions including taking a dip in a pool filled with the water from the famed Lake Baikal and visiting a hydro-power station in the Amur region.

The North Korean leader was expected to begin his return journey later Wednesday.

© 2011 AFP

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