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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - North Korean PM gets red carpet treatment

North Korean PM gets red carpet treatment

North Korean PM gets red carpet treatment

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North Korean Prime Minister Kim Yung Il arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport on an official four-day visit November 1.See related story page 16

Thousands of flag-waving children, a brass band, and scout troops lined the streets

to greet North Korean Prime Minister Kim Yung Il as he arrived in Phnom Penh for

a four-day official visit to Cambodia to sign trade agreements between longtime Asian

friends.

Under a canopy draped with flags and flowers, Prime Minister Hun Sen, and five deputy

prime ministers, Sar Kheng, Sok An, Tea Banh, Hor Nam Hong, and Lu Laysreng, waited

to lead Kim Yung Il, along the red carpet from his Air Koryo P-814 jet to a waiting

black Mercedes Benz.

Kim Yung Il, the most senior North Korean official ever to visit Cambodia, passed

a long line of ministers and foreign diplomats from Cuba and Russia as well as a

variety of Asian countries including, China, India and Malaysia .

No western diplomats attended the airport ceremony and no meetings were scheduled

with the prime minister and western officials.

"It was not a political statement to not send someone to the airport,"

said a German Embassy spokeswoman. "We are a very small embassy and must focus

on operative tasks," she said.

An American Embassy spokesman said they had a "scheduling conflict."

"We view the visit as a positive development with North Korea seeking to engage

in normalized relations with members of the international community," the spokesman

said.

The British Embassy had no comment as to why no one attended.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman said they did send an advisor to welcome the prime minister.

"But we have not received much official information about this visit, so at

this stage we cannot comment about what might happen."

Meetings were scheduled between the prime minister and Hun Sen, the King Father Norodom

Sihanouk, who celebrated his 85th birthday on Wednesday, and Commerce officials.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said he expected a deal to be signed boosting trade

between the two countries' sea ports.

"The main topic of discussion on this trip will be economic and trade relations,"

he said at the airport. "We want to export more Cambodian products to North

Korea in the future - this is why we will sign a deal about the sea ports."

Earlier, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said Cambodia will sign an investment agreement

with North Korea, adding that the isolated communist country was seeking access to

world markets through investing in Cambodia.

"Through investment, North Korea may see Cambodia as a bridge by which to produce

goods and export to bigger countries," he said at the time.

North Korea and Cambodia have maintained a friendship for decades but so far the

only evidence of a North Korea presence in Cambodia are the Pyongyang Restaurant

on Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap and the ever present North Korean

bodyguards who surround King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

"The Pyongyang Restaurant in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh is no ordinary Korean

eatery," according to Bertil Lintner, author of Great Leader Dear Leader: Demystifying

North Korea under the Kim Clan. "For one, it's owned and run by the North Korean

government, a capitalist enterprise that sends its profits directly to state coffers

in Pyongyang."

"The choice of Cambodia for this North Korean capitalist experiment was no coincidence,"

Lintner said, noting the longtime friendship between the King Father and North Korea.

North Korea opened its first restaurant in 2002 in Siem Reap, which attracts thousands

of South Korean tourists a year. With that success it opened additional restaurants

in Phnom Penh, and in three cities in China.

They are "no slouches as capitalists," Lintner said.

Kim Yong Il came to Cambodia from Vietnam where he signed trade agreements earlier

in the week.

Chhorn Hay, Cambodia's Ambassador to North Korea, told the Post that low level commercial

transactions have existed between the two countries since the signing of the Paris

Peace Accords in 1991.

"But the level of merchandise traded at the moment is not very great. I am always

working to find groups who would be interested in investing in Cambodia," he

said.

Apart from the diplomatic community, there are no Cambodians living in North Korea,

but Chhorn said it would be no problem for Cambodian citizens who wished to obtain

a tourist visa to travel to North Korea.

"From Mount Baiktou in the north, to Mount Kimgang on the line of demarkation

in the south, there are many beautiful valleys, waterfalls, historical monuments

and sites of outstanding natural beauty," Chhorn said.

Chhorn noted that despite widespread poverty North Korea has ski areas and two golf

courses in Pyongyang.

Chhorn, who first traveled to North Korea in 1983 when he was in the royal Cabinet

of the King Father said he does all he can to ensure the relationship between the

two countries flourishes in every domain.

He said he had high hopes for the visit of Kim Yong Il and envisioned a trade package

being finalized.

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