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(4th LD) S. Korean journalists to cover nuke-testing site demolition

All Headlines 14:49 May 23, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES lead paras with pool report; ADDS photo; CHANGES headline, dateline )

SEOUL, May 23 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- Eight South Korean journalists left by government plane for North Korea's eastern city of Wonsan on Wednesday to cover the dismantlement of its nuclear test facilities expected later this week.

The reporters and television crews are joining the other foreign journalists from the U.S., China, Russia and Britain invited to the Punggye-ri event, as they wait for a special train from Wonsan to the northeastern mountainous area. The media visitors from the four countries flew in to the North's coastal city on Tuesday from Beijing.

South Korea sent a government VCN-235 transport aircraft from a military airport just south of Seoul to Wonsan carrying the pool reporters -- four from a newswire and four from a broadcaster.

Also aboard were two Air Force pilots and four maintenance crew.

The jet is taking the direct route over the East Sea used by ski players to train at the Masikryong resort in January.

Foreign reporters prepare to cover North Korea's nuclear test site dismantlement at a hotel in Wonsan on May 22, 2018, in this AP photo. (Yonhap)

"(We) will do our best to convey all on-site situations fully, swiftly and precisely, as we are going there as South Korean media representatives to cover the first step of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a pool reporter said just before departure.

In an about-face, the North accepted the list of the South Korean journalists earlier in the day.

The move came hours after summit talks between President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. in which they agreed to keep the plan for the June 12 summit between the North and the U.S. on track.

The North announced in mid-May that it would blow up all the tunnels and other facilities at the Punggye-ri site, the location of six nuclear tests, between May 23-25 in a show of its denuclearization commitment.

It added that the exact date would be dependent on the weather.

South Korean reporters sit aboard a government transport plane about to leave for Wonsan, North Korea, on May 23, 2018 in this pool photo. (Yonhap)

South Korea welcomed the latest, albeit belated, development, expressing hope that it could lead to the swift and complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

"The government welcomes that our press corps has been allowed to participate in the event marking the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site," ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters during a regular press briefing.

"We expect that this will serve as a starting point for accomplishing complete denuclearization as swiftly as possible through the U.S.-North Korea summit and talks at various channels," he added.

The North had declined to accept the list of South Korean reporters for days without providing any reason or explanation, giving rise to speculation that the foot-dragging might have to do with somewhat cooled relations between the two Koreas after the North's abrupt cancellation of inter-Korean talks scheduled for last week.

The North unilaterally postponed the high-level talks with the South meant 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 decision, urging the North to return to talks as soon as possible, but the North ramped up its criticism, threatening that talks will not happen if Seoul and Washington continue their joint military drills.

The North has been reportedly making preparations to host a group of foreign journalists for the dismantling ceremony.

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.

North Korea is also said to be making efforts to repair and test the safety of a 270-kilometer stretch of railway between Wonsan and Kilju in North Hamgyong Province, where the Punggye-ri site is located.


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