http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,117872,00.html Report: Thousands Hurt, Killed in N. Korea Crash Thursday, April 22, 2004 SEOUL, South Korea Up to 3,000 people were killed or injured Thursday in a horrific train collision and explosion at a station near the Chinese border, according to South Korean news media, just hours after North Korean President Kim Jong Il (search) had passed through the same spot. Almost immediately following the crash of two trains carrying oil and liquefied petroleum, rumors spread that it might have been a deliberate attempt on Kims life. But senior Defense Department officials told Fox News there wasn't any information to substantiate such theories and the collision was more likely a tragic accident. North Korean authorities placed a total news blackout on information about the crash, according to Chinese news reports, taking such drastic measures as cutting international phone lines in and around the town of Ryongchon (search), where the collision happened. North Korea declared a state of emergency after the crash. "The area around Ryongchon station has turned into ruins as if it were bombarded," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted witnesses as saying. "Debris from the explosion soared high into the sky and drifted to Sinuju," a North Korean town on the border with China, the agency said. About nine hours before the blast, Kim had reportedly passed through the station where the collision happened as he returned from a secret trip to China, South Korea's all-news cable channel, YTN, reported. Kim met with the country's leaders and discussed the standoff over the North's nuclear weapons program. North Korea's state-run news agency on Thursday confirmed that Kim had made a secretive trip to China on Monday through Wednesday, but carried no comments on the reported explosion. A substantial number of Chinese citizens were believed to be among the presumed 3,000 victims, sources in China said. Many of the survivors were transferred back to China to receive treatment, which seemed to be how news of the catastrophe spread despite the North Korea-imposed news blackout. The Yonhap report of the state-of-emergency declaration gave no details. It said officials of the secretive North Korean government had put in place a "type of state of emergency" around the town of Ryongchon. In a sign of the accident's magnitude, the government cut international phone lines to prevent news of the crash from leaking across its borders, Yonhap said, citing no sources. James Lilley (search), a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and to China, said he saw a possibility that anti-Kim forces could have tried to carry out an assassination attempt like this. "They realize the system depends so much on him and the system is so bad and punitive that some people could have just taken the situation into their own hands," he told Fox News. Kim apparently had a soft spot for Ryongchon, which is about 35 miles from the Chinese border. He often visited the town and its machine-tool factory. "If it was an assassination attempt, it was a poor one," John Wolfsthal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (search) told Fox News. He said it was doubtful because of the nine-hour difference between when Kim passed through and when the collision and explosion occurred. But Wolfsthal added that the brutal dictatorial Kim regime would likely use the crash to its advantage. "The leadership may use this as an opportunity to clamp down on whatever dissent or instability there might be," he told Fox. "We will be watching closely to see how Kim Jong Il responds." The number killed or injured could reach 3,000, YTN said, citing unidentified sources on the Chinese side of the border. The Yonhap news agency, quoting witnesses in the Chinese city of Dandong on the border with the North, said the explosion occurred about 1 p.m. at Ryongchon. It said Kim passed through nine hours earlier, returning to Pyongyang. Yang Jong-hwa (search), a spokeswoman of South Korea's Unification Ministry, said her organization could not immediately confirm the reports. The ministry is in charge of relations with North Korea. The Defense Ministry likewise was not commenting. "We are aware of the news reports, but we will not make any comments at this stage," said a spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. Lilley, the former U.S. ambassador, said an accident of this magnitude would make it impossible for the North Koreans to keep quiet. "I'm sure this kind of thing happens quite frequently in North Korea," Lilley said. "Their infrastructure is deteriorating fast." YTN reported that the causalities included Chinese living in the North Korean border region, and that Chinese in Dandong (search) were desperate to learn about their relatives. Some of the injured were evacuated to hospitals in Dandong, it said. Chinese and North Korean traders frequently cross the border at Dandong, a bustling industrial city on Yalu River. China, which also confirmed Kim's visit, is North Korea's last major ally, and the two countries' ruling communist parties boast of close ties. But while China's experiments with capitalism have transformed it into an economic dynamo, North Korea suffers chronic food shortages and depends on its larger neighbor for aid. Kim met with President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders and agreed to "push ahead" with a peaceful resolution to the standoff over its nuclear weapons programs, the North's official KCNA news agency and central television network reported earlier Thursday. The broadcast added that Kim said his government "will continue to be patient and flexible and actively participate in the process of six-nation talks and contribute to making progress at the talks." The comments were likely to be encouraging to the United States and other countries, who want China to use its leverage as North Korea's leading supplier of food and energy aid to get the country to disarm. Washington wants Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear facilities, but North Korea has said it doesn't trust the United States not to invade and wants a security guarantee. The last round of six-nation talks involving China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia ended in February in Beijing without a settlement. The accident resembled a disaster in Iran on Feb. 18, when runaway train cars carrying fuel and industrial chemicals derailed in the town Neyshabur, setting off explosions that destroyed five villages. At least 200 people were killed.