UPDATE : 2018.8.20 MON 11:47
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S. Korean journalists in N. Korea to cover nuke-testing site demolition

Eight South Korean journalists arrived in North Korea on Wednesday by government plane to cover the dismantlement of its nuclear test facilities expected later this week.

The reporters and television crews joined the other journalists from the United States, China, Russia and Britain in Wonsan, as they wait for a special train to the Punggye-ri test site in the northeastern mountainous area. The media visitors from the four countries flew in to the North's eastern coastal city Tuesday from Beijing.

It remains uncertain when the train will depart for the nuclear-testing site in Kilju, North Hamgyong Province.

The distance between Wonsan and the Jaedok Station, adjacent to the venue, is known to be about 416 kilometers. Given the North's railway conditions, it will likely run at a speed of about 35 kph, according to observers here. It means a 12-hour train journey for the international journalists.

Then, they are expected to use vehicles to reach the destination, approximately 21 km away from the station.

South Korea sent a government VCN-235 transport aircraft from a military airport just south of Seoul to Wonsan carrying the pool reporters -- four from a newswire and four from a broadcaster.

The jet took the direct route over the East Sea used by skiers to train at the Masikryong resort in January.

South Korean reporters sit aboard a government transport plane about to leave for Wonsan, North Korea, on May 23, 2018 in this pool photo. (Yonhap)

"(We) will do our best to convey all on-site situations fully, swiftly and precisely, as we are going there as South Korean media representatives to cover the first step of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a pool reporter said just before departure.

In an about-face, the North accepted the list of the South Korean journalists earlier in the day.

The move came hours after summit talks between President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. in which they agreed to keep the plan for the June 12 summit between the North and the U.S. on track.

The North announced in mid-May that it would blow up all the tunnels and other facilities at the Punggye-ri site, the location of six nuclear tests, between May 23-25 in a show of its denuclearization commitment.

It added that the exact date would be dependent on the weather.

Foreign reporters prepare to cover North Korea's nuclear test site dismantlement at a hotel in Wonsan on May 22, 2018, in this AP photo. (Yonhap)

South Korea welcomed the latest, albeit belated, development, expressing hope that it could lead to the swift and complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

"The government welcomes that our press corps has been allowed to participate in the event marking the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site," ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters during a regular press briefing.

"We expect that this will serve as a starting point for accomplishing complete denuclearization as swiftly as possible through the U.S.-North Korea summit and talks at various channels," he added.

The North had declined to accept the list of South Korean reporters for days without providing any reason or explanation, giving rise to speculation that the foot-dragging might have to do with somewhat cooled relations between the two Koreas after the North's abrupt cancellation of inter-Korean talks scheduled for last week.

The North unilaterally postponed the high-level talks with the South meant to discuss follow-up measures to the April 27 inter-Korean summit, taking issue with ongoing joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

The South Korean government expressed regret over the decision, urging the North to return to talks as soon as possible, but the North ramped up its criticism, threatening that talks will not happen if Seoul and Washington continue their joint military drills.

The North has been reportedly making preparations 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.

Hwi Won  edt@koreapost.com

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