- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Tuesday took a dip in water from the world’s largest freshwater lake and visited an aircraft factory in eastern Siberia, leaving his armored train en route to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The North Korean leader stepped out of his train in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, a Buddhist province near Lake Baikal, early Tuesday. His motorcade soon left for a picturesque village on the shores of Baikal.

Mr. Kim took a two-hour Baikal tour on a yacht guarded by two North Korean boats, the Inform Polis Online website reported, quoting eyewitness accounts. The water in Baikal is ice-cold even in summertime, so Mr. Kim had to take a swim onshore — in a pool filled with Baikal water. The speaker of Buryatia’s legislature joined Mr. Kim in the swim, the news website reported.

On the shore, the North Korean leader was treated to traditional Buryat food including meat dumplings and Baikal fish prepared over an open fire.

Later on Tuesday, Mr. Kim went back to Ulan-Ude to visit a major aircraft factory, which among other things produces Sukhoi attack planes, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported from the plant.

Mr. Kim is expected to meet with Mr. Medvedev on Wednesday for talks that could focus on a deal for a natural-gas pipeline. The pipeline would stream Russian natural gas through the North’s territory to South Korea. South Korea media said the North could earn up to $100 million every year, but negotiations haven’t reported much progress because of a standoff over North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, however, raised worries Monday that the North could shut down the gas supply abruptly if relations deteriorated with the South.

The North Korean leader’s visit is shrouded in mystery. A few people managed to take photos of Mr. Kim at his previous stop on Sunday, but heavy police cordons kept the media and onlookers in Ulan-Ude away from the train station and the adjacent square.

Anna Ogorodnik, a photographer from Ulan-Ude, told the Associated Press by phone that nearby streets were full of riot police. The station square looked clean and deserted after authorities had tugged away cars and local buses.

The windows of the station building overlooking the tracks were plastered with sheets of paper, and station employees were ordered to stay indoors, Ms. Ogorodnik said.

The photographer said she had been detained after trying to take pictures. She was released after she had presented her journalist ID.

The station square remains cordoned off and Mr. Kim‘s train is still at the station, Ms. Ogorodnik said.

It is Mr. Kim‘s first visit to his country’s Cold War ally in nine years.

Russian military officials arrived in the North Korean capital on Monday for a five-day visit. The Russian Defense Ministry said the talks will focus on the renewal of military cooperation between the countries, possible joint exercises “of a humanitarian nature” and an exchange of friendly visits by Russian and North Korean ships, ITAR-Tass reported from Pyongyang.

The itinerary for Mr. Kim‘s visit, expected to last about a week, largely has been kept secret because of what appears to be high security concern from North Korea.

Hyung-jin Kim, Foster Klug and Jiyoung Won reported from Seoul.