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Everybody Has to be Somewhere - But Where is Kim Jong Il?

  • Luis Ramirez

Kim Jong Il, North Korea's reclusive leader, is apparently on the road this week, but whether in China or en route to Russia, and how he is getting there, is a mystery. Neither the North Korean nor the Chinese government is talking.

Since Tuesday, journalists and diplomats in the Chinese capital have played a sort of guessing game on the whereabouts of Kim Jong Il. Some reports had him in Shanghai, while others put him in the southern city of Guangzhou. Still others said he was headed for Moscow.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill, in China for a few hours to push along efforts to restart multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear program, said only that he understood "some North Korean visitors" were also in the country. North Korean embassy officials told VOA they did not know where their leader was.

When Mr. Kim last came to China in 2004, the Chinese government did not confirm his visit until after the North Korean leader had returned home. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan laughed when reporters pressed him to disclose Kim Jong Il's travel plans in China.

Kong says he can only repeat that he cannot provide any information on the matter. The Chinese spokesman begged reporters to understand that North Korea, like every country, has "its own way" of handling things.

Some unconfirmed news reports said Mr. Kim had traveled to Shanghai by air, which - if true - would be unusual. North Korean propaganda materials tout the man as one of the world's greatest fighter pilots - despite accounts that he is deeply afraid of flying. He usually prefers to take his personal armored train instead, even when it adds days to a journey.

Mr. Kim has been characterized as paranoid, but analysts say he might have good reason for not disclosing his whereabouts during his infrequent foreign travels. On his return from China in 2004, a huge explosion destroyed a part of a railway station his train had passed through only a few hours earlier. There was speculation at the time that the blast had been an assassination attempt.

But as always when the world's most isolated country is involved - who knows?

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