Report: NKorea's Kim rides on tricked-out trains

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2009 8:21 AM

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il _ known for shunning air travel _ has six luxurious trains equipped with reception halls, conference rooms and high-tech communication facilities, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday.

There are also 19 stations across North Korea exclusively for Kim's trains, which have a total of some 90 carriages, the mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing an analysis by South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities.

It said the intelligence was obtained by U.S. spy satellites and U-2 reconnaissance planes and the testimonies of North Korean defectors.

The National Intelligence Service _ South Korea's main spy agency _ and the U.S. military command in Seoul said they couldn't confirm the report.

The paper said Kim uses the trains when he makes inspection visits to local army units and factories or travels abroad.

It said each train is equipped with armor and has conference rooms, reception halls, bedrooms, wall-mounted TVs and modern communications equipment like satellite phones, enabling the leader to get debriefed on major issues and issue orders while traveling.

To cope with any possible attempts to harm Kim, his train also travels with two other trains with the first one running ahead of his to check the safety of railway lines while the second one carries security agents and follows behind, the paper said.

Kim's train usually travels at a speed of 37 mph (60 kph), it said.

The paper quoted an unidentified source as saying security measures on Kim's trains were boosted following a 2004 train explosion that killed about 160 people and injured an estimated 1,300 others.

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The blast in the North Korean town of Ryongchon near the border with China was believed sparked by a train laden with oil and chemicals that hit power lines.

But the explosion occurred hours after Kim reportedly passed through the station on his way home from a three-day visit to China, sparking speculation it might have been an assassination attempt.

The reclusive Kim rarely travels abroad _ and only under tight security and avoids planes. He last visited China in 2006, though state media recently reported that Chinese President Hu Jintao has invited to visit again.

It's not clear when or even if the 67-year-old Kim, who reportedly suffered a stroke last year, will accept the invitation.