North Korea’s Kim fears flying, likes trains: bodyguard

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (BestGrowthStock) – North Korea’s Kim Jong-il is so terrified of being shot out of the skies by one of his many enemies that he never travels by plane, said a man who spent years guarding the reclusive leader.

South Korean media reported Monday that Kim had gone across the border into China on his first trip abroad in four year — in his personal armored train.

Kim will be hoping for financial help from his country’s main benefactor to prop up a crumbling economy, further damaged by tighter sanctions and his own major economic policy blunder late last year which, analysts say, could put his dynastic rule of more than 60 years at risk.

His preferred way of travel has always been by train for rare trips abroad, and by car or ship when touring his own destitute state, said Lee Yong-guk, who served in the closet circle of bodyguards for Kim in the 1980s before defecting to the South 10 years ago.

“Never,” Lee said when asked if Kim would ever change his mind about not flying.

“He knows he’s committed many crimes and he is too keen about his own body’s safety to do that,” he said in a recent interview when speculation was rising that Kim was about to visit China.

Kim has direct knowledge of the dangers of flying, according to intelligence experts.

Kim, when he was still heir apparent to his father Kim Il-sung, is widely believed to have masterminded the bombing of a South Korean passenger jet in 1987, killing 115 people.

Lee said Kim makes sure his security details have devised smoke screens by setting several trains, motorcades and ships in motion to trick overseas intelligence officials.

In a book on being a member of the elite guard protecting Kim, Lee describes an impulsive, scheming and party-loving leader, obsessed with his own safety. Kim had an office compound fortress with concrete walls 80 cm (32 inches) thick and armored metal doors that can withstand a tank blast.

SHRUNKEN FIGURE

Lee, now a businessman, said he does not recognize the Kim Jong-il he once knew in recent pictures that show a gaunt, shrunken figure after a suspected stroke in 2008.

The former bodyguard remembers a healthy and rotund Kim who loved to hike and could swim several laps in his personal Olympic-size pool.

Lee said he was plucked from a small town in the northern region and trained to serve as a member of the secret service from 1978. He was one of the first 150 men specially chosen to exclusively guard the man who would take over power when state founder and Kim’s father Kim Il-sung died in 1994.

Kim Jong-il, known at home as the “Dear Leader,” would sometimes share a light moment with his guards, Lee said, once by rolling down his car window at the gate and hollering: “Hey, it’s me! Open up.”

Kim’s demand for secrecy is in contrast to his more open father, who became eternal president on his death, and who let his whereabouts be known before embarking on trips.

The precise movement of Kim Jong-il inside China may never be known but he will almost certainly be surrounded by a huge entourage on his armored train, including aides, guards and women who share lavish meals and drinks with the leader.

“Of course he’ll still be doing all that even when he’s older now,” Lee said of Kim’s penchant for gourmet food, fine wine and young women, even after the health scare.

“All that greed and lust isn’t going anywhere.”

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(Editing by Jon Herskovitz, Jonathan Thatcher and Sanjeev Miglani)

North Korea’s Kim fears flying, likes trains: bodyguard