SINGAPORE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Singapore on Sunday afternoon (June 10) on an Air China plane that landed at Changi Airport, ahead of his landmark summit with United States President Donald Trump on Tuesday in Sentosa.
Mr Kim was welcomed by Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan at the airport. He also met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong later on Sunday, during which he thanked Singapore's "sincere efforts" in helping with preparations for the summit.
Soon after the Air China Boeing 747 touched down at about 2.35pm, a motorcade, with as many as 35 vehicles including local police escort motorcycles, left Changi Airport’s VIP complex.
It travelled on Airport Boulevard towards the Pan-Island Expressway, which was closed to other traffic. Mr Kim was believed to be in one of two Mercedes Benz cars that had unmarked plates and North Korean flags.
The convoy headed for St Regis Hotel in the Orchard area where Mr Kim, Chairman of the States Affairs Commission, and his delegation would be housed during his stay in Singapore.
International media and curious on-lookers crowded to catch a glimpse of the motorcade as it drove by Tanglin Road and to St Regis. Most were gathered at the junction of Tomlinson Road, which was closed off, and some, across the road from the hotel.
At about 3.40pm, the motorcade arrived at St Regis.
At least seven bodyguards, dressed in suits and blue ties, waited at the entrance of the hotel as the motorcade arrived, and were later seen jogging by one of the black Mercedes Benz cars, which drove into the carpark.
It is not certain who was in the car but the vehicle was similar to the one that ferried Mr Kim's de facto chief of staff Kim Chang Son when he was here last week.
According to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, Mr Kim is accompanied by his key aides, including Mr Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea who recently met Mr Trump in Washington to deliver a letter from the North Korean leader.
His entourage also includes Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Mr Ri Su Yong, a vice-chairman on international affairs from the ruling party, said the report.
According to reports, Mr Kim's younger sister Kim Yo Jong, who accompanied him to the Winter Olympics as well as the inter-Korean talks in April, is also in the delegation.
The Air China jet Mr Kim travelled in was one of three aircraft - the others carrying officials and supplies for the North Korean leader – that left Pyongyang at different times on Sunday morning.
The first is a Russian-made cargo plane, believed to be carrying food items, vehicles, authorised weapons and other supplies for Mr Kim.
The Air China Boeing 747 had departed at about 8.30am local time. Sources had told The Straits Times it is believed to be carrying North Korean officials, including Mr Kim. South Korean news agency Yonhap also reported that Mr Kim could be on board.
Observers noted that the secrecy and mystery shrouding Mr Kim’s plans could perhaps be explained by paranoia and security concerns stemming from his lack of international travel and exposure.
Publicly, the North Korean leader has left his country only thrice since taking over the reins after his father died in 2011: He flew to China twice and once to the Demilitarised Zone between his country and South Korea this year.
Data from the Flightradar24 website showed that the Air China jet was travelling mostly over China’s inland provinces – a break from the typical flying over water.
Observers said that the unusual flight path could be Beijing’s effort at maximising Mr Kim’s time in its airspace to provide protection as well as signal its backing for North Korea.
The last plane that left just after 10am is also a Soviet-made aircraft, the Ilyushin Il-62, which arrived in Singapore at around 3.50pm.
Earlier on Sunday morning at the Changi Airport, preparations were in full swing to receive the flights.
Refrigerator trucks - designed to transport perishables - had been on standby since before 10am, ST understands.
From the airport, the trucks - believed to be provided by ground handler Sats - also made their way to St Regis.
An advance party arrived on Saturday afternoon in an Air China passenger jet.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump's motorcade is likely to include up to 50 vehicles - some provided by the Singapore police and others flown in specially for the summit held at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa.
At the heart of the convoy will be Mr Trump's custom black limousine known as "The Beast" and an identical decoy, which can withstand explosions and chemical attacks.