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North Korea nuclear crisis

Foreign journalists’ epic 20-hour journey to remote North Korea nuke site involves a train, bus and then a hike

The journalists set off by train from the North Korean city of Wonsan Wednesday afternoon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 6:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 7:34pm

A group of foreign journalists departed by train Wednesday to watch the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear test site after eight reporters from South Korea received last-minute permission to join them.

The remote site deep in the mountains of the North’s sparsely populated northeast interior is expected to have a formal closing ceremony in the next day or two, depending on the weather.

The closing was announced by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ahead of his planned summit with President Donald Trump next month.

The journalists set off from the North Korean city of Wonsan, according to tweets from journalists within the group who added they were unlikely to have any internet or mobile phone coverage until they return to the city.

The journalists were put in sleeping cars on the train, four bunks to a compartment. The compartments had windows covered with blinds, and the journalists were told not to open the blinds throughout the journey.

Media were also expected to pay their own costs for the trip. The train fare was US$75 per person round trip. Each meal was US$20.

They are expected to travel for some 20 hours by train, bus and finally a short hike to the remote test site – a vivid illustration of the impoverished country’s notoriously decrepit transport infrastructure.

Considering the time needed to travel to the nuclear site from Wonsan, where North Korea has set up a press centre for the foreign journalists, the demolition, if it happens, is likely to take place after Thursday.

North Korea had earlier refused to grant entry visas to the South Korean journalists after Pyongyang cut off high-level contact with Seoul to protest joint US-South Korean military exercises.

But North Korea accepted the list of the South Korean journalists to attend via a cross-border communication channel.

The journalists from the MBC television network and News1 wire service took a special government flight later Wednesday to go to the North’s northeastern coastal city of Wonsan.

The other journalists from the United States, the UK, China and Russia arrived in Wonsan on Tuesday.

The group includes an Associated Press Television crew.

The North’s eleventh-hour decision to allow the South Koreans to join came just after Trump met South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington to try to keep the Kim-Trump summit from going off the rails.

Trump indicated he believes the meeting will take place, but left open the possibility it would be delayed or even cancelled if a fruitful outcome doesn’t seem likely.

The summit could offer a historic chance for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

But there has been increasing pessimism about the meeting after North Korea scrapped the inter-Korean talks and threatened to do the same for the Kim-Trump summit in protest of the South Korea-US military drills and what it calls Washington’s push for “one-sided” disarmament.

The North’s decision to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site has generally been seen as a welcome gesture by Kim to set a positive tone ahead of the summit.

Even so, it is not an irreversible move and would need to be followed by many more significant measures to meet Trump’s demands for real denuclearisation.

By bringing in the foreign media, mainly television networks, the North is apparently hoping to have images of the closing – including explosions to collapse tunnel entrances – broadcast around the world.

But it has not invited international inspectors to the ceremony, which limits its value as a serious concession.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Kyodo