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Friday, May 4, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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North Korea leader's son caught entering Japan, says he just wanted to go to Disneyland

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TOKYO - Japan detained, then deported, the eldest son and heir-apparent of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il after he was caught trying to enter the country on a fake passport.

Kim Jong Nam, 29, reportedly traveling on a Dominican Republic passport under the name of Pang Xiong, told authorities he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland, Japanese media reported.

"I am Kim Jong Nam," Kyodo News agency quoted the man as telling police investigators. "I wanted to go to Disneyland."

Kim and three traveling companions - two women and a boy - were loaded onto a commercial flight for Beijing this morning.

A Japanese government source said the man, who had not been formally identified as Kim, was to be accepted by China as part of a deal to avoid a diplomatic incident.

North Korea, designated by the United States as a "state that sponsors terrorism," has long had troubled relations with Japan, its former colonial power. Talks aimed at normalizing ties have been stalled for more than six months.

Tokyo Disneyland is, for the most part, a replica of the original Disney theme park in Anaheim, Calif., and it draws huge crowds from throughout Japan and across Asia.

Police took Kim into custody at Narita airport east of Tokyo after he arrived Tuesday aboard a Japan Airlines flight from Singapore.

Japanese media said immigration authorities had been tipped off and were waiting for Kim when he arrived.

His companions, two women, 33 and 30, and a 4-year-old boy, were believed to be members of his family.

The press said the group looked prosperous, with Kim sporting a Rolex watch and the women carrying Louis Vuitton handbags.

The reports said Kim asked for food at one point during the seven hours of questioning and paid with a 10,000 yen ($83) note from a wallet stuffed with yen and U.S. dollars, telling the staff to keep the change.

The group had tickets to leave Monday for Beijing.

A copy of the man's passport showed a photo of a plump man. The passport holder was described as a naturalized citizen born in Korea. It gave the same birthday as Kim, May 10, 1971.

The man told immigration authorities the group had paid $2,000 for each passport and the documents were prepared in one day, Kyodo said.

Kim studied in Japan when he was younger, and he said he had visited Disneyland as a teenager, Kyodo said.

Kim would have found it difficult to enter Japan with a North Korean passport - like many countries of the world, Japan has no diplomatic relations with the communist state and does not routinely accept its passports. By some accounts, the diplomatic isolation has made the use of forged passports common among the few North Koreans who are allowed out of the country.

As a member of the ruling family elite, Kim Jong Nam has traveled extensively abroad and also was educated in Moscow and Geneva. He has recently begun accumulating official posts in North Korea, most recently the top job in computer technology, a sign that he is being groomed - as his father was - to extend the family dynasty in Pyongyang.

When Kim Jong Il traveled to China in January and toured technology companies, Kim Jong Nam was with him.

"He is known to be very interested in the Internet and high-tech industry, as well as the latest trends in advanced countries," said Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on North Korea at South Korea's Dongguk University.

Little is known about Kim Jong Il's family, but according to South Korean officials, he is believed to have three children: Kim Jong Nam; Kim Sul Song, a daughter born in 1974; and Kim Jong Chul, a son born in 1981. All had different mothers.

Kim Jong Nam was born to Sung Hae Rim, 64. Sung made international headlines in 1996 when she was reported to have defected to the West after disappearing for a time from her Swiss villa.

She now is believed to be in Moscow for medical treatment for depression.

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