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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

North Korea says nuclear test site demolished

Series of blasts set off at Punggye-ri in the presence of foreign media

A satellite image of Punggye-ri from May 23, 2018, a day before North Korea set off a number of explosions in what it said was a demolition of the nuclear test site. DigitalGlobe via AP
A satellite image of Punggye-ri from May 23, 2018, a day before North Korea set off a number of explosions in what it said was a demolition of the nuclear test site. DigitalGlobe via AP

North Korea said it had demolished its nuclear test site on Thursday after setting off a series of explosions over several hours in the presence of foreign journalists.

The explosions at the site deep in the mountains of the sparsely populated north-east were centered on three tunnels into the underground site and a number of observation towers in the surrounding area.

The closing of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site had been announced by leader Kim Jong-un ahead of his planned summit with US President Donald Trump next month.

The North's decision to close the site has generally been seen as a welcome gesture by Mr Kim to set a positive tone ahead of the summit. Even so, it is not an irreversible move and would need to be followed by many more significant measures to meet Mr Trump's demands for real denuclearisation.

The first blast journalists witnessed happened at around 11am on Thursday. North Korean officials said it collapsed the north tunnel, which was used for five nuclear tests between 2009 and last year.

Two other explosions at around 2.20pm and 4pm demolished the west and south tunnels, according to officials.

Observation posts and barracks used by guards and other workers at the facility were also destroyed.

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Another tunnel on the eastern side of the facility was shut down after an initial nuclear test in 2006.

By bringing in the foreign media, mainly television networks, the North is apparently hoping to have images of the closing — including explosions to collapse tunnel entrances — broadcast around the world.

The North did not invite international inspectors to the ceremony, which limits its value as a serious concession.