REPORT: NORTH KOREA TRAIN BLASTS KILLS UP TO 3,000


2004.04.22
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SEOUL�North Korea declared a state of emergency Thursday following a massive explosion at a railway station in which up to 3,000 people are thought to have died or been injured, South Korean media reported.

The explosion occurred when two trains carrying flammable fuels collided at Yongch'on Station in North Pyongyang Province near the capital Thursday, the YTN Cable television station quoted a Seoul government official as saying. South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Pyongyang had declared a state of emergency following the blast, which caused widespread destruction.

"This incident caused a great number of casualties, and some witnesses reportedly said that the number of casualties may reach up to about 3,000," YTN said on its news Web site. "This government official said that this explosion accident appears to be a simple accident and is considered to have no political motive.�

North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il passed through the station just hours earlier on his return from a hush-hush visit to neighboring China, during which the standoff with the United States the isolated Stalinist state's nuclear weapons program was at the top of the agenda.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported shortly Kim had sent a telegram to President Hu Jintao after his return to Pyongyang, thanking him for the talks they held together.

In an apparent bid to reassure Chinese leaders that Kim was unaffected by the attack, the telegram said Kim had traveled by special train "through Tianjin, and returned to my own country after leaving Dandong [on the Chinese border with North Korea].� It thanked Hu for his warm welcome and hospitality, sending warm regards to China's leadership, and others Kim had met during his trip from Liaoning province, Beijing municipality and Tianjin municipality, Xinhua said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency also reported thousands of casualties. Neither Yonhap nor YTN gave a breakdown of deaths and injuries.

Yonhap quoted sources in the Chinese city of Dandong that borders the North as saying the explosion occurred around 1 p.m. (0400 GMT)�nine hours after Kim's special train was reported to have passed on its way back to Pyongyang after a visit to China.

"The station was destroyed as if hit by a bombardment and debris flew high into the sky," Yonhap said, quoting unidentified Chinese sources.

The sources said cargo trains carrying gasoline and liquefied petroleum gas collided at Ryonchon station 50 kms (30 miles) south of the border. Yonhap also quoted a senior Defence Ministry official as saying the South's military�which eavesdrops on North Korea�had heard about the blast through "intelligence channels directed against the North.� #####

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