VIENNA // North Korea has expelled UN monitors from its plutonium-making nuclear plant, officials said today, accelerating moves to restart the basis of an atom bomb project it had renounced under a disarmament-for-aid deal. The Stalinist state had said on Friday it was working to reactivate the sprawling Yongbyon reactor complex, which it had been dismantling since last November under a disarmament-for-aid deal with five powers that has gone awry. Olli Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency's head of non-proliferation safeguards, revealed the major setback in a special briefing to a closed meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors in Vienna. "There are no more seals and surveillance equipment in place at the [plutonium] reprocessing facility," the IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said, referring to the most proliferation-sensitive installation at Yongbyon. [North Korea] further stated that from here on, IAEA inspectors will have no further access to the reprocessing plant," she said, summarising Heinonen's remarks. "[North Korea] also informed IAEA inspectors that they plan to introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing plant in one week's time," Mr Fleming told reporters outside the meeting. Western diplomats and nuclear analysts have said North Korea would need at least several months and probably more time to restart the largely dismantled complex. Diplomats close to the IAEA said three monitors had been ousted from positions at the plutonium facility but were still observing other parts of the Soviet-designed complex.
They said the monitors were forced to remove around 100 seals and 20-25 cameras from the plutonium facility. North Korea's foreign ministry has said steps are under way to restore Yongbyon to its "original state", reneging from a 2007 accord with five powers to scrap its nuclear arms programme in exchange for significant trade and diplomatic benefits. Last month, North Korea said it planned to restart Yongbyon because it was angry at Washington for not taking it off its terrorism blacklist. In early September, it made minor but initial moves to restart the plant, US officials said. Washington has said it will delist Pyongyang once it allows inspectors to verify claims it made about nuclear arms output, a demand that analysts say has angered Pyongyang. Pyongyang wants a more flexible verification mechanism, they said. North Korea readmitted IAEA non-proliferation monitors in mid-2007 to verify its dismantling of Yongbyon, four years after expelling UN watchdog personnel following US accusations that it had a secret uranium-enrichment programme. In 2005 North Korea said for the first time it had nuclear weapons capability and in 2006 test-detonated a nuclear device. "North Korean moves to halt and reverse disablement and, most recently, remove IAEA seals and cameras from the reprocessing facility, are unsettling," the US Ambassador Gregory Schulte said in a statement to the IAEA board. The IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei told the agency board on Monday that monitors had observed some equipment previously removed by North Korea being brought back, but said this had "not changed the shutdown status" of Yongbyon. *Reuters