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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kim Swaps His Train For a Volvo In Omsk

OMSK, Western Siberia — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived Tuesday in the Western Siberian city of Omsk for his first lengthy stopover on his 10-day train journey to Moscow.

Kim ducked into a Volvo with a North Korean flag without approaching journalists, who were kept at a distance of about 50 meters. He was to go straight from the train station to an Omsk theater for a performance of a folk ensemble and a military band.

He was to then spend the night at a dacha for visiting officials and foreign dignitaries.

On Wednesday, local officials plan to take Kim to a tank factory and a pig farm. Officials in Omsk, about 2,250 kilometers east of Moscow, said a previously scheduled visit to a tank firing range had been canceled because of security concerns.

Media access to the North Korean leader is heavily restricted, and officials said Kim is not expected to make any statements in Omsk.

Earlier Tuesday, Kim's train stopped in Novosibirsk for about 20 minutes, but the reclusive leader did not get off.

Russian media had reported that Kim would leave the train in Novosibirsk to meet with the widow of Yakov Novichenko, a Soviet officer who reportedly once saved the life of Kim's father, longtime North Korean leader Kim il-Sung.

Yakov Novichenko reportedly threw himself on a grenade that was thrown at Kim in 1946 in Pyongyang, now the North Korean capital, and was seriously injured.

Maria Novichenko, 80, was waiting for Kim on the platform, but he did not come out. His representative stepped down onto the platform, commented on the rainy weather and gave her a large, overstuffed beige nylon suitcase, apparently full of gifts.

The officer told Novichenko that Kim would meet her on his way back from Moscow.

Journalists were kept away. The only cameras allowed to record the incident belonged to Kim's staff, wielding what one member of the Novosibirsk regional government delegation called "ancient Nikons — out of a museum — and a movie camera with one light bulb broken."

After the train rumbled away, reporters asked the family what was in the suitcase. One of Novichenko's daughters shouted back: "For us it is not the suitcase that matters, but the relationship."

Kim is expected to arrive in Moscow on Saturday for talks with President Vladimir Putin.

Kim is making his first trip abroad to any country apart from China, repeating a trans-Siberian journey which his late father made with communist pomp and fanfare in 1984. It was during that trip that the Soviet authorities first recounted the story of Yakov Novichenko.

Russian officials say economic issues will be the focus of the agenda in Kim's talks with Putin.

Although Moscow no longer sponsors North Korea and is now a healthy trade partner with the South, it hopes it can still use its old ties with Pyongyang to ease tension on the divided peninsula and draw the North out of its isolation.

A much-heralded plan calls for extending the Trans-Siberian railway to South Korea via the North.

(AP, Reuters)