August 29, 2011 07:15
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was accompanied on his Russia trip by the commander of the belligerent country's Air Force.
"Photos taken by foreign news agencies during the North Korea-Russia summit show Gen. Ri Pyong-chol, the commander of the North Korean Air Force, standing in formal suits [not in military uniform] between Kim and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev," a South Korean security official said Sunday.
It is rare that an Air Force chief accompanies Kim on an overseas trip. "This is decisive proof that one of the goals of Kim Jong-il's visit was to buy new fighter jets from Russia," a source familiar with North Korean affairs said.
A list of Kim's official entourage released last Sunday by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency included Minister of the People's Armed Forces Kim Yong-chun, Ju Kyu-chang, the first vice-director of the Ministry of Defense Industry, and Pak To-chun, Workers Party secretary for munitions, but not Ri.
A South Korean government official said, "As a four-star Air Force general, Ri would deserve a place on the list, but it seems his name was omitted deliberately."
Neither Pyongyang nor Moscow made it clear whether the two leaders discussed supply of munitions to the North.
"Selling a large number of finished fighter jets to the North would be a problem for Russia given its relations with South Korea," a government source here said. "It seems highly likely that Russia just ended up agreeing to replace superannuated parts" of the North Korean Air Force's Russian-made fighter jets.
During previous summits in 2001 and 2002, Kim asked Russia to sell him up-to-date weapons like Sukhoi fighters but then-Russian president Vladimir Putin turned him down.
Visiting China in May, Kim also asked Chinese President Hu Jintao to sell him up-to-date J-10 and J-11 stealth fighters, only to be rejected again.
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