UPDATE : 2018.9.23 SUN 08:15
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N. Korea declines to accept list of S. Korean journalists to cover nuke site dismantlement

North Korea declined to accept the list of South Korean journalists chosen to cover the dismantling of its nuclear test site Tuesday, making it technically hard for the South Korean media to join the event scheduled for this week.

"We tried to convey the list through the Panmunjom communication channel at 9 a.m. today, but the North declined to accept it," a unification ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

As the North declined to accept the list, South Korean media is highly likely to be excluded from covering the event that the North is planning to hold this week.

"It appears to be technically difficult (for the South Korean reporters) to make a trip to the North today," a government official said. "It is regrettable."

A unification ministry official later told reporters that the Panmumjom channel was shut off for the day at 4 p.m. without any new developments.

But the ministry said it will try again on Wednesday as Pyongyang earlier said the shutdown process will take place between Wednesday and Friday.

"Given the North Korea's dismantling schedule for the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, we still have time. We will try to hand over the list again tomorrow morning," said the ministry in a release. "If the North accepts it, the reporters may fly to the site via a direct route between the two Koreas in accordance with a precedent during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics."

Days before the PyeongChang Games opened on Feb. 9, members of the South Korean national skiing squad traveled to a North Korean ski resort for joint training on a chartered flight via a direct air route to Kalma Airport in the North's eastern city of Wonsan.

International journalists invited by Pyongyang to cover the dismantlement of its key nuclear test site head toward a chartered plane bound for North Korea at Beijing Capital International Airport on May 22, 2018. (Yonhap)

North Korea announced in mid-May that it will publicly shut down the test site located in the country's northern region in a ceremony to which media from South Korea, China, Russia, the United States and Britain will be invited to cover.

The North invited four South Korean reporters each from a newswire or a broadcasting company for the event to be held from Wednesday to Friday, depending on weather conditions.

The site, located in the mountainous region of the North, is where the North carried out all six of its nuclear denotation tests. Its dismantling is deemed to be a "meaningful" step toward the complete denuclearization the North promised in the April 27 inter-Korean summit.

Despite uncertainty over their trip to the North, eight South Korean journalists arrived in Beijing on Monday.

It is likely that foreign journalists excluding the South Koreans will fly to Wonsan on Tuesday on a charter plane from which they are expected to travel by train to an area near the test site. They are set to return home either on Saturday or Sunday.

With the South Korean journalists stranded, a North Korean reporter based in Beijing expressed his regrets.

"I am a journalist myself, and it'd be great if South Koreans were able to cover the event," said Won Jong-hyok, Beijing correspondent for the Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the North Korean Workers' Party.

Qualifying his remarks as personal views, Won said the door is still open for the South Koreans to make their way to North Korea.

"Since we're going to have to watch the weather conditions between Wednesday and Friday, there's a still a chance even if they don't get on the plane today," Won said. "Our marshal (Kim Jong-un) and President Moon Jae-in have talked and come up with a good agreement. For us, this is a major event. If they wait until tomorrow with hope, they may receive some good news."

Won Jong-hyok (C), a Beijing correspondent for North Korea's Rodong Sinmun, speaks with reporters at Beijing Capital International Airport on May 22, 2018. (Yonhap)

The latest development comes amid worries over the North apparently returning to a provocative tone from a monthslong peaceful approach ahead of its unprecedented summit talks with the United States set for June 12.

Last week, the North abruptly canceled scheduled high-level inter-Korean talks, taking issue with ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and the United States.

The South Korean government expressed regret over the unilateral decision, urging the North to come out for talks as soon as possible to discuss follow-up measures to the recent summit agreement.

The North doubled down on its criticism of the South, with Ri Son-gwon, the chief of North Korea's agency handling affairs with the South, saying Thursday that talks will not happen if Seoul and Washington continue their joint military drills.

The North is apparently ramping up its preparation 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 the eastern coastal city of Wonsan and Kilju in North Hamgyong Province, where the Punggye-ri site is located.

Kim Sua  edt@koreapost.com

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