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North Korean leader Kim Jong-il likes to collect trains
While some people enjoy collecting model trains and building tiny stations along scaled down tracks, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to have taken this passion to a new level. According to a report in South Korea’s largest daily newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, Kim has six private trains and 20 stations around the country built just for him.
Kim’s train is armored and also contains conference rooms, an audience chamber and bedrooms. Satellite phone connections and flat screen TVs have been installed so that the North Korean leader can be briefed and issue orders, the paper said quoting intelligence sources.
Security obsessed Kim has 90 carriages in his collection and uses three trains when he travels, according to the paper. The advance train carries security personnel who check the tracks and look for bombs along the way. The train in the middle carries Kim and his entourage, while the trailing train is also for security.
Lee Yong-guk, who served in the closest circle of bodyguards for Kim in the 1980s before defecting to the South, told Reuters that North Korean security had mastered the art of camouflage to such a level that a train going north may in fact mean a ship carrying Kim is heading south.
Kim also travels the rails with a few young women who share food, drinks and perhaps a few other things with the man known at home as the “Dear Leader”, Lee said.
The reclusive Kim is thought to be afraid of flying and typically uses his private rail cars for his few trips abroad. He also likes to ride the rails for his internal inspection visits to military bases, factories and farms called “field guidance” by the North’s state media.
U.S. and South Korean aerial reconnaissance of North Korea have been keeping track of Kim’s trains for years, causing him to send out decoys.
There was speculation that Kim may have been the target of an assassination attempt in 2004 when there was a massive explosion in the area where his train was thought to have been travelling.
Kim could soon be taking one of his rare trips aboard. His state media reported in late October that Chinese President Hu Jintao had invited Kim for a visit. If Kim does take the journey to China, which would be his first since a trip there in January 2006, the North will probably be true to its form and not announce the visit until it is over and Kim is safely back in Pyongyang.
(PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visits the newly built Kumjinggang Guchang Juvenile power plant in North Korea during one of his field guidance visits in an undated photo provided by the North’s KCNA news agency on Nov. 8, 2009)