Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il appears headed for a third destination in China rather than returning home from a surprise trip believed linked to his country`s succession process, a report said on Sunday.
Kim`s special train left the northeastern city of Changchun late Saturday in what was believed to be a departure for home, South Korea`s Yonhap news agency reported.
But as of Sunday morning there were no signs the train had returned to the North via the Chinese border cities of Dandong or Jian, it said.
It seems to have taken a different route, the agency quoted a diplomatic source in Beijing as saying.
A diplomatic source in the Chinese city of Yanji told Yonhap the local government was preparing to receive a special guest. "It is highly likely that it would be Chairman Kim," the source said.
Kim has not previously visited Yanji, capital of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture which is part of China`s economic development plan for its northeastern provinces.
South Korean media has said Kim, 68, is believed to have met President Hu Jintao in Changchun, during an apparent mission to seek China`s support for an eventual handover of power to his youngest son Jong-Un.
The leader suffered a stroke in August 2008 and since then has reportedly speeded up plans for an eventual power transfer in the hardline communist state.
China is the impoverished North`s sole major ally and its economic lifeline. It chairs six-nation talks on the North`s nuclear disarmament and has been pressing Pyongyang to return to the forum which it quit in April 2009.
Yanji is close to the border with North Korea. It was unclear whether it would be Kim`s last stop before heading home. Neither Chinese nor North Korean state media have confirmed the leader`s visit.
The current visit is Kim`s second to China in about three months, even though he rarely travels abroad. He met Hu during his previous visit in May.
The trip went ahead despite a visit to Pyongyang by former US President Jimmy Carter to secure the release of a jailed American. It was not known whether Jong-Un, believed to be aged about 27, accompanied his father.
On the first day on Thursday, Kim paid a visit to Jilin`s Yuwen Middle School which his father, communist North Korea`s founder Kim Il-Sung, attended from 1927 to 1930.
Kim Jong-Il also visited a park where the remains of anti-Japanese independence fighters are buried, Yonhap said.
Chinese nuclear envoy Wu Dawei, who has visited both Pyongyang and Seoul in recent days, said the North supported a three-step proposal made by China to restart the nuclear forum.
China wants an informal dialogue between North Korea and the United States and preliminary talks to take place before the full six-party session is resumed, he said.
But Seoul expressed reservations, calling for the North to show greater sincerity about abandoning nuclear weapons and to apologise for the March sinking of a South Korean warship.
Yonhap said a visit by Kim to the Yanbian region may be related to economic cooperation plans.
Beijing is reportedly seeking permission to extend its lease of the North`s northeastern port of Rajin. The port provides access to the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
China currently has a 10-year lease on Rajin, which also borders Russia, Li Longxi, governor of the Yanbian prefecture, said during China`s annual legislative meeting in March.
He said the use of the port would make it easier to ship coal from northeast China to southern China and Japan.