North Korea's state media claim the country has grief-stricken friends around the world who mourn the death of former leader Kim Jong-il, the Washington Post reported Sunday. And while the claim may be exaggerated, there do seem to be a handful of people overseas who mourn his passing. The paper homed in on one such group in Spain that is part of the North's "Korean Friendship Association."
The association claims about 15,000 members around the world, the paper says. It receives no funding from North Korea and does not engage in any information-gathering or campaign activities. But it praises North Korea's "constancy" and voices support for the Kim dynasty.
Its leader is Alejandro Cao de Benos de Les y Pérez (37). When he was 16, he met and befriended a North Korean delegation who were in Spain to attend a congress by the UN's World Tourism Organization. That friendship led to a visit to Pyongyang where he was "mesmerized" by the way the regime ran the country. In 2002, he was given the title of "special representative" of a North Korean committee that handles diplomatic issues and has become a spokesman for the North in the western media.
He visited Pyongyang on Jan. 16 to mark Kim Jong-il's posthumous 70th birthday and plans to visit again in April for Kim Il-sung’s centenary. North Korea has restricted the number of global friends he can bring to 50 due to the lack of hotel rooms "Everybody wants to go," he said. "But I had to limit the number."