Signs that North Korea is preparing for the scheduled dismantlement of its key nuclear test site this week are growing, amid lingering doubts over whether the actual decommissioning will take place.
Satellite imagery from May 15 shows North Korea making necessary preparations, such as building an observational stand for visitors for the dismantling of its Punggye-ri test site, according to 38 North, a US website monitoring the North, on Sunday.
North Korea said last month that it would hold a ceremony for the dismantling of the nuclear test site between Wednesday and Friday, and invite journalists from China, Russia, the United States, Britain and the South to cover it. The event comes ahead of a planned meeting between its leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in June.
“The unusual activity observed a week ago, on the hillside near the West Portal, could represent the stockpiling of tunnel timbers and/or building materials reclaimed from the ongoing dismantlement effort, but given the exposed hillside location with an unobstructed viewshed, the most likely explanation is that it will form an observation platform to allow journalists to safely view the explosive closure of the North and West Portals,” the 38 North article said.
The article also noted that small buildings have been removed, while key structures remain intact. Preparations appear to continue ahead of the visit by foreign journalists, it said.
On Sunday, Yonhap News Agency reported that signs indicating North Korea’s restoration of sections of a railway track between the eastern coastal city of Wonsan and Kilju in North Hamgyong Province, where the Punggye-ri site is located, have been spotted, citing a government source. North Korea is also testing trains on the track, the source said.
It is likely to take more than seven hours for a train to arrive at Kilju from Wonsan, even at full speed, considering that the 270-kilometer railway is decrepit and has many sections that need restoring, the source was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s propaganda website DPRK Today on Sunday called the dismantlement “a very meaningful and significant measure” undertaken voluntarily by the North to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula based on the spirit of Panmunjeom Declaration reached during the inter-Korean summit last month.
DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
On Saturday, another North Korean propaganda website, Uriminzokkiri, carried a commentary in which the North said it does not give the slightest consideration to “a mental patient’s grumble” in the South. “The international community as well as the United States and South Korea is giving a great deal of support to the dismantlement,” it said.
Through commentaries released on the two websites, the North criticized conservatives in the South, including the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, for undermining its vows to shut down the site.
The Ministry of Unification handling inter-Korean affairs said Friday the North had not responded to the roster of South Korean journalists tapped to cover the ceremony.
South Korea tried to notify North Korea of the names of journalists through the hotline at Panmunjeom, but the North did not respond. The lack of response prompted the South and the international community to wonder whether the North would carry through its vows.
Last week, North Korea called off a high-level meeting with the South, taking issue with a South Korea-US joint military exercise.