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North Korea has begun dismantling nuclear test site, experts say

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced on April 21 that his country would dismantle its nuclear test site. The North has promised to dismantle the northeastern Punggye-ri test facilities ahead of leader Kim Jong Un’s June 12 summit with President Donald Trump. (COURTESY OF KCNA)

Satellite images show that North Korea has begun dismantling its nuclear test site, razing several key buildings and removing rails, a monitoring website said.

The North has promised to dismantle the northeastern Punggye-ri test facilities ahead of leader Kim Jong Un’s June 12 summit with President Donald Trump.

It has announced plans to hold a ceremony at the site next week and to allow foreign reporters to attend.

Commercial satellite images from May 7 “provided the first definitive evidence that dismantlement of the test site was already well underway,” according to 38 North, a website that tracks North Korean activity.

Several key operational support buildings outside the north, west and south portals were razed and some rails for mining carts have apparently been removed, 38 North said.

It also said some carts seem to have tipped over or been disassembled and several small sheds have been removed since its last analysis in late April.

The report said plenty of work remains, presumably left for the journalists to observe at the ceremony, which the North has said will be between May 23 and 25, depending on weather.

The two largest buildings at the command center and the main administrative support area remained intact, and no tunnel entrances appear to have been permanently closed, it said.

The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency issued a rare press release last week announcing plans to use explosions to collapse all of its tunnels, block entrances and remove all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts.

The dismantling of the mountainous complex, which has been the site of all six nuclear tests conducted by North Korea since 2006, is part of its promise to stop nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests ahead of the first-ever U.S.-North Korean summit.

Some experts have said the site had already been rendered unusable after reports that the mountain was on the verge of collapse after the sixth and most powerful underground blast took place in September.

But Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and others have welcomed the decision, saying it’s a measure of the North’s sincerity in its recent outreach to the international community.

“This would be a preliminary step toward complete denuclearization,” Moon said Monday, according to a transcript provided by his office.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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