North Korea has accepted list of South Korea reporters invited to cover dismantling of nuclear test site

Journalists from several international media outlets have departed for North Korea to witness the closure of a nuclear test site. It's a sign their promise to shut down will go ahead, although what the journalists may find is less clear.
A satellite photo of the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site in North Korea, on May 14, 2018.
A satellite photo of the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site in North Korea, on May 14, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korea has accepted a list of South Korean reporters to visit their nuclear testing site after a days-long tug of war with Seoul, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Wednesday (May 23).

North Korea invited a handful of media from a number of countries to witness the dismantling of the Punggye-ri testing site to uphold its pledge to discontinue nuclear tests.

However, it had declined to take the list of reporters from South Korea - four from a newswire and four from a broadcaster - after calling off planned inter-Korean talks in protest against US-South Korean air combat drills.

Yonhap reported earlier this weeek four of the eight South Korean reporters have flown to China to apply for a North Korea visa at its Beijing Embassy. They will wait for a flight to the North in Beijing.

The demolition of the test site is scheduled to take place between Wednesday and Friday, depending on the weather.

The invitation to witness the dismantling of the Punggye-ri site was seen as an indication that North Korea’s unexpected offer to end its nuclear tests still held despite renewed diplomatic uncertainty. No technical experts have been invited. 

Reporters from various news outlets in a number of countries excluding South Korea have arrived in the North Korea's port city of Wonsan, where they are waiting to be guided to the testing site by North Korean authorities.

Reporters from China, the US and Russia departed on a charter flight from Beijing, according to Chinese state broadcaster CGTN which is part of the contingent.

Invited members of foreign media said North Korean authorities told them the weather was “too bad for travel” to the Punggye-ri site but they may in fact be awaiting the South Korean reporters, citing a forecast that shows improving weather.

Satellite imagery shows that North Korea is building what appeared to be a viewing stand for foreign media invited to observe the dismantling of its nuclear test site comprising of a network of tunnels inside a mountain in the north-east of the country. Sources said North Korea was conducting test train runs and repairing sections of a decrepit railway that would take the reporters from Wonsan and Kilju in North Hamgyong province, where the Punggye-ri site is located.  

All six of North Korea's known nuclear tests are conducted at the Punggye-ri site.

North Korea has said that the planned site closure will reportedly involve the "collapsing all of the tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances, and removing all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts",