Sat, Jan 14, 2006 - Page 4 News List

North Korean leader's whereabouts remain a mystery


North Korea's secretive leader Kim Jong-il was reportedly visiting southern China's financial center of Shenzhen yesterday, amid a news blackout by Chinese authorities.

China's refusal to comment on Kim's whereabouts has prompted speculation he could be anywhere from northeast China's Tianjin to Guangdong Province, near Hong Kong.

Kim, who last visited chief ally China in 2004, reportedly crossed the border by train on Tuesday, although Chinese authorities have refused to confirm or deny that he is even in the country.

China usually only announces visits by Kim after he leaves.

Officials in charge of responding to media inquiries in Guangdong did not answer repeated phone calls yesterday.

The Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post reported that Kim arrived at the five-star White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, the day before and planned to tour Shenzhen yesterday.

Traffic was blocked off around the hotel on Thursday as a convoy of minibuses, limousines and police cars drove up, the paper said.

Japan's Kyodo News Agency, in a report from Guangzhou, said a hotel employee, who was not named, told a reporter Kim was staying at the White Swan.

Hotel staff confirmed to The Associated Press that the city government booked the facility during the weekend, obliging other guests to move elsewhere. But they would not say why.

Chinese authorities often temporarily stop traffic for motorcades and take over hotels for government meetings. However, top government leaders and foreign visitors usually stay in secluded guest houses. Closing off an entire commercial hotel like the White Swan is an extremely unusual step.

Staff at the Shenzhen Stock Exchange denied they were expecting Kim or any other VIP guests yesterday.

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