Wed, May 16, 2018 - Page 1 News List

N Korea preparing nuclear site closure: S Korean military

PROOF?Satellite imagery taken last week showed definitive evidence that dismantlement of the test site was under way, the 38 North Web site said

AP, SEOUL

North Korea is moving ahead with plans to close its nuclear test site next week, South Korea’s military said yesterday.

The assessment was backed by US researchers who say satellite images show the North has begun dismantling facilities at the site.

The site’s closure would set up next month’s historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, which is shaping up to be a crucial moment in the global diplomatic push to resolve the nuclear standoff with the North.

Still, analysts say the closure would not represent a material step toward full denuclearization.

Roh Jae-cheon, spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the South’s military has seen signs that the North is conducting “preparatory work” so that it can carry out its plans to shut down its northeastern testing ground.

He did not specify what the military has seen.

However, an analysis by 38 North, a North Korea-focused US Web site, said that commercial imagery taken last week shows that several operational support buildings have been razed and rails for mining carts have apparently been removed.

The site has been used for all of North Korea’s six underground nuclear test explosions.

“Commercial satellite imagery from May 7 provided the first definitive evidence that dismantlement of the test site was already well under way,” the Web site wrote.

The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday announced that it would dismantle the test site between Wednesday and Friday next week.

To provide transparency, the ministry said journalists from South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Britain would be invited to observe the destruction of tunnels and the removal of observation and research facilities at the site.

Seoul’s Ministry of Unification said it was informed by the North yesterday that eight South Korean journalists would be invited.

The North did not reveal the number of spots it would give to non-Korean journalists, the ministry said.

The eight South Korean journalists — four each from a wire agency and a broadcaster that have yet to be determined — are to take a chartered flight from Beijing to the North Korean coastal town of Wonsan on Tuesday next week, it said.

The reporters are then to be transported by a chartered train to the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri.

Kim has already declared his nuclear weapons and missile program as finished and the nuclear testing site’s mission as completed. Some analysts question whether the dismantling of the site is aimed at destroying evidence.

While South Korea’s presidential office had said that Kim told South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their summit last month that international experts would be invited to witness the closure, the North’s foreign ministry statement on Saturday did not include any references to allowing experts at the site.

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