Kim Jong-il visits Siberia’s Lake Baikal

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Tuesday visited Russia’s Lake Baikal and a Siberian helicopter plant, a source said.

The reclusive North Korean leader is making his first visit to Russia since 2002. He arrived in an armored train on Saturday. Rail travel is Kim’s preferred mode of transport, due to a reported fear of flying.

His itinerary is being kept under wraps, and meetings with officials have been closed to the media. Police interrupted an attempt by a local TV crew to record Kim’s arrival in the south Siberian republic of Buryatia earlier on Tuesday.

Kim’s armored Mercedes drove directly to the ground from the train after special equipment was installed to allow him to do so,

The North Korean leader then visited the construction site of the Baikal Haven federal tourism and recreation zone and took a boat trip in the world’s largest freshwater lake. As the water was too cold for swimming, Kim took a dip in a hot water pool.

For dinner he was offered Buryatia’s traditional food, including buuza – steamed meat dumplings – and omul, a white fish of the salmon family endemic only to Lake Baikal.

The Korean leader also visited the Ulan-Ude plant of the Russian Helicopters holding, which produces mainly civil and military modifications of the Mil Mi-8 medium twin-turbine transport helicopter. The event was also closed to the media.

An eyewitness said the visit came amid unprecedented security measures.

“Even during the highest-profile visits, including by the President Dmitry Medvedev, fewer special service officers and servicemen were present,” he said.

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