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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 April, 2004, 18:42 GMT 19:42 UK
N Korea train blast 'kills many'
Kim Jong-il's armoured train
The North Korean leader's train passed through hours earlier
Up to 3,000 people have been killed or injured in a huge explosion after two fuel trains collided in North Korea, reports say.

The blast happened at Ryongchon station, 50km north of Pyongyang, South Korea's YTN television said.

The incident reportedly happened nine hours after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il passed through the station on his way home from a visit to Beijing.

Mr Kim had been in China to discuss North Korea's nuclear programme.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the North Korean authorities had declared a state of emergency in the area and cut off all international telephone lines, apparently to stop news of the accident spreading.

'Bombardment'

The trains, carrying petrol and liquefied gas, crashed at about 1300 local time (0400 GMT), Yonhap said.

The reports were based on information from unnamed Chinese sources near the border with North Korea, said news agencies.

It was not possible to obtain independent confirmation of the number of casualties. North Korea is notoriously secretive and rarely reports its own accidents.


"The station was destroyed as if hit by a bombardment and debris flew high into the sky," Yonhap quoted its sources as saying.

The BBC's Kevin Kim in the South Korean capital, Seoul, says there are various theories about the explosion, including speculation that it may have been an assassination attempt against the North Korean leader.

However, he says this has been dismissed by the South Korean authorities, who believe it was an accident.

Emergency

Our correspondent says another theory is that the liquefied petroleum gas carried in one of the trains was a gift from China to North Korea after Mr Kim's visit to Beijing.

WORLD'S WORST TRAIN DISASTERS
April 2004: Ryongchon, N Korea - up to 3,000 reported dead after two trains collide and explode in a station
February 2004: Neyshabur, Iran - at least 300 killed when a runaway train explodes
June 2002: Dodoma region, Tanzania - at least 200 killed when passenger train collides with goods train
Feb 2002: Egypt - 300 killed in fire on train travelling to Cairo
June 1989: Ufa, Russia - More than 400 killed in gas explosion under two trains
Aug 1995: Uttar Pradesh, India - 300 killed in train collision
June 1981: Bihar, India - 800 killed when cyclone blows train into river

The Yonhap agency quoted a South Korean defence ministry official as confirming that the explosion had taken place.

But a Chinese railway worker at the Dandong border crossing, contacted by Reuters news agency, said he had not heard of a blast and had seen no signs of any emergency effort under way.

A BBC East Asia reporter, Andrew Wood, says the explosion would no doubt be another blow to North Korea's spluttering communist economy.

The country is short of energy, food and cash. Hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions, are believed to have died in famines in recent years.

This accident would upset the country's fragile distribution networks even further, our correspondent says.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jeremy Bowen
"Outsiders can only guess at how this closed-off country is coping"



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