North leader’s visit to China appears imminent

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North leader’s visit to China appears imminent

A trip to China by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears imminent, multiple sources from South Korea and China said yesterday.

The North’s leader “has not crossed into China yet, but it appears highly likely that his Chinese trip would come either today or tomorrow as a considerable level of preparations have been done,” a source said on condition of anonymity.

The source did not provide specifics.

An official from Seoul’s foreign ministry, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government has detected signs of Kim’s imminent trip to the North’s ally.

“We have seen some signs and we are now closely monitoring the situation,” the official said.

A diplomatic source in China’s border city of Dandong said the Chinese police have ordered hotels there to empty their facilities and beefed up security for three days starting on Saturday.

Some of the hotels in the city are considered good observation posts for foreign journalists when the North Korean leader crosses the border by train.

One of the hotels, which commands an excellent view of the cross-border railway over the Yalu River, has been told to evict all its guests and cancel all reservations, the source said.

Kim’s long-speculated trip to China had been expected to raise the prospects of reopening six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear programs. But such chances were thrown into doubt in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean naval ship in waters near North Korea.

The communist nation is a primary suspect in the sinking, though it denies responsibility.

A foreign diplomatic source in Seoul earlier said the resumption of the six-way nuclear negotiations will likely be delayed until the results of an ongoing investigation into the ship sinking are known.

“All evidence points to a torpedo. The question is ‘Who is it?,’ but there are not too many likely candidates there,” the source said. “I think we need a little bit of a pause in efforts to restart the six-party talks.”

The nuclear talks, involving both South Korea and the North, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, were last held in December 2008.

If Kim goes to China, he is expected to seek aid to support the North’s crumbling economy.

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