Monitors leave North Korean nuclear facilities

Tue, Dec 31, 2002, 00:00

North Korea's nuclear complex capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium was shut off from outside monitoring today, as the United States warned the impoverished country faced further isolation over its nuclear ambitions.

Two inspectors from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has been monitoring North Korea's nuclear facilities for the past eight years, arrived in Beijing today after being expelled.

North Korea had ordered the inspectors to leave the country amid an escalating nuclear standoff over its plans to revive the mothballed nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 90 kilometers north of Pyongyang.

As Pyongyang threw a cloak of secrecy over the nuclear plant, IAEA officials said the inspectors would submit their report on North Korea to the agency's board on January 6th.

The inspectors were carrying home the IAEA's most sensitive documents and equipment used to monitor a freeze on nuclear activities at the complex under a US-North Korean accord signed in 1994.

Their departure deprives the international community of detailed information about the North's nuclear activities. Daily reports from the inspectors have kept the world abreast in recent days of the North's moves to reactivate its nuclear program.

The removal of UN surveillance in Yongbyon followed North Korea's threats on Sunday that it could pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The North's nuclear brinkmanship triggered an angry response from the United States, which said North Korea would pay "a serious price" in withheld international aid.

"The entire world stands ready to help North Korea, but North Korea will not realise any of the benefits and the help that they need until they reverse (their) current course," said White House spokesman Mr Scott McClellan.

AFP