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(5th LD) N. Korea demolishes nuclear test site

All Headlines 22:26 May 24, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with S. Korea's response in last 5 paras)

PUNGGYE-RI, May 24 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- North Korea destroyed its only known nuclear test site with a series of explosions over several hours on Thursday, taking an initial step toward denuclearization, according to South Korean journalists visiting the area.

The North dynamited the North Portal, also referred to as Tunnel No. 2, at Punggye-ri, a northeastern remote area, at around 11 a.m., they said in a brief pool report delivered by phone.

Two other tunnels were destroyed at 2:17 p.m., followed by the explosion of barracks, observation towers and other facilities on the ground.

The blasts ended at 4:17 p.m., the journalists said without clarifying whether Tunnel No. 1, or the East Portal, was removed as well. Among the four tunnels in the zone, the East Portal was evidently abandoned earlier, according to 38 North, a U.S.-based website.

Plumes of smoke soon covered the mountain.

Reporters and television crews from the United States, China, Russia and Britain were also invited to witness the ceremony.

They filmed the spectacle, but footage is expected to be available only after they return to Wonsan, the North's eastern coastal city, presumably on Friday morning.

This image depicts North Korea's dismantling of its nuclear test site. (Yonhap)

The South Korean government welcomed the move, voicing hope for further progress in efforts for a nuclear-free Korea.

"The government evaluates the dismantlement of the nuclear test site this time as the meaningful first step for translating North Korea's will for complete denuclearization, which it expressed via the South-North summit, into action," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

It added that it will continue diplomatic efforts to realize the complete denuclearization stipulated in the Panmunjom Declaration, referring to the inter-Korean summit deal reached in April, and the establishment of permanent peace on the peninsula, as well as to support the Pyongyang-Washington summit to be held in Singapore next month.

In its own statement, the North said it "completely" collapsed the nuclear test facilities.

"The Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK held a ceremony for completely dismantling the northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK on May 24," the institute said, using the abbreviation of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, according to the Korean Central News Agency.


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