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(3rd LD) N. Korea stays mum on proposed list of S. Korean journalists to cover nuclear site shutdown

All Headlines 17:07 May 21, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS paras 2-3 with updated info; ADDS details throughout)

SEOUL, May 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has not accepted South Korea's proposed list of journalists chosen to cover a ceremony for the dismantlement of a nuclear test site planned for this week, the unification ministry said Monday.

The ministry tried again on Monday to convey the list of the reporters selected to cover the shutdown of the Punggye-ri nuclear site through the communication channel in the morning and late in the afternoon, but the North has not responded on the matter, according to a ministry official.

"Today's communication channel closed ... The list of our journalists was not delivered (to the North)," the official said on condition of anonymity.

North Korea announced on May 12 that it will publicly dismantle the test site located in the country's northern region in a ceremony to which media from South Korea, China, Russia, the United States and Britain will be invited to cover.

The North later invited four South Korean reporters each from a newswire and a broadcasting company for the event to be held from Wednesday to Friday, depending on weather conditions. The site, located in the northeastern region of the North, is where the North carried out all six of its nuclear denotation tests.

"We hope that the event to dismantle the Punggye-ri nuclear site goes as planned without a problem," unification ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters at a regular press briefing in response to a question about whether South Korean media could be excluded from covering it.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon also called on the North to take "positive" steps with regards to allowing the South Korean journalists to join the event for the dismantlement, which he called a "meaningful" initial measure toward complete the denuclearization promised by the North.

"We will wait and see. ... We will do our best until the last minute," he said told Yonhap News Agency on the sidelines of a forum held in central Seoul.

The North has ramped up its criticism of South Korea after abruptly canceling high-level talks with the South slated for Wednesday to discuss follow-up measures to the April 27 inter-Korean summit, taking issue with ongoing joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

The South Korean government expressed regret over the unilateral decision, urging the North to come out for talks as soon as possible to discuss follow-up measures to the April 27 inter-Korean summit agreement.

The North doubled down on its criticism, with Ri Son-gwon, the chief of North Korea's agency handling affairs with the South, saying Thursday that talks will not happen if Seoul and Washington continue their joint military drills.

Experts say the probability remains low that the North will cancel the high-profile event aimed at showcasing the shutdown of the nuclear site to the world altogether as it is seen as a major step toward denuclearization, which will dominate the agenda of its much-anticipated summit with the U.S. next month.

38 North, a U.S. website dedicated to monitoring developments in North Korea, earlier reported that satellite imagery shows that North Korea is preparing to build an observation stand for the dismantling of its nuclear test site.

On Sunday, a South Korean source said North Korea has shown signs of repairing and testing the safety of sections of a 270-kilometer railway between the eastern coastal city of Wonsan and Kilju in North Hamgyong Province, where the Punggye-ri site is located.

Earlier in the day, some of the South Korea reporters chosen to cover the shutdown left for Beijing to get their visas issued by Pyongyang for their not-yet-authorized trip to the North.

If allowed, the journalists are scheduled to fly from Beijing to Wonsan on Tuesday by a charter plane and to travel by train to a region near the test site before returning home either on Saturday or Sunday, according to the ministry.

South Korean reporters check in at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul on May 21, 2018, on their way to Beijing, from where they will travel to North Korea. North Korea said journalists from South Korea, China, Russia, the United States and Britain would be allowed to cover the dismantlement of the North's key nuclear test site, scheduled for May 23-25, pending weather conditions, but their visit became uncertain when Pyongyang abruptly canceled talks with Seoul. (Yonhap)

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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