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North Korea demolishes Punggye-ri nuclear test site tunnels

North Korea demolished its only known nuclear weapons test-site at Punggye-ri on Thursday, May 24, according to a government statement and foreign journalists invited to the event who reported explosions used to collapse and seal the site’s underground tunnels.

“Dismantling the nuclear test ground was done in such a way as to make all the tunnels of the test ground collapse by explosion and completely close the tunnel entrances, and at the same time, explode some guard facilities and observation posts on the site,” the Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK said.

Punggye-ri is a mountain and North Korea’s main underground testing site for its nuclear weapons. It was the site of what North Korea announced as a hydrogen bomb test in September 2017, which researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China claimed had caused the test site to collapse and become unusable. Nevertheless, North Korea insisted the site was still capable for testing.

“It has been confirmed by local and international reporters that two tunnels at the nuclear test ground were ready for uses for carrying out very powerful underground nuclear tests at any given time,” the NWI said later in its statement to the Korean Central News Agency.

While journalists from China, Russia, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S. were invited to watch the demolition of Punggye-ri, South Korea pulled its presence amid a diplomatic row with the North, and no international experts were invited to witness the event and verify the efficacy of the site’s destruction.

“It is regrettable that international experts were not invited to witness the site closing,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

In 2008, as the result of a previous inter-Korean summit, North Korea demolished the nuclear reactor tower at Yongbyon. However, it continued developing nuclear weapons.

Journalists were shown the underground tunnels North Korea used at Punggye-ri before they were destroyed, Sky News reported.

Trump cancels Singapore summit with Kim

The demolition was meant to be a show of good faith before a planned summit with the United States, but U.S. President Donald Trump wrote in a letter on Thursday that the summit would not happen as planned.

Pre-summit negotiations had floundered after North Korea denounced the planned U.S. presence at the ‘Max Thunder’ military drills in South Korea, and deteriorated further as U.S. and DPRK officials disagreed on the reasons and goals for the summit.

“Choe Son Hui, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK, issued the following press statement on Thursday: At an interview with Fox News on May 21, the U.S. Vice President Pence has made unbridled and impudent remarks that North Korea might end like Libya…and so on,” North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency reported.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in the run-up to the summit that a ‘Libya model’ for denuclearization was possible for North Korea. Libya had agreed to peacefully dismantle its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In October 2013, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was toppled and killed by a combination of U.S.-led airstrikes and rebels as part of the ongoing Libyan Civil War.

“There’s a 10 percent or a 20 percent chance that I can talk him out of those damn nukes because who the hell wants him to have nukes? And there’s a chance – I’m only gonna make a good deal for us,” Trump said regarding negotiations with North Korea in 2016, while campaigning for president.

The cancellation caught South Korea’s government off-guard.

“We are trying to figure out what President Trump’s intention is and the exact meaning of it,” presidential spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

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