International journalists on Wednesday set out on an arduous journey to witness the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear test site, Punggye-ri – an event that experts predict will be more about PR than substance.
The departure of about 22 Chinese, American, Russian and British journalists, including a Sky News team, from the North Korean port city of Wonsan, was delayed in order to wait for the arrival of eight more South Korean journalists from Beijing.
The South Koreans had initially been dropped from the trip after a diplomatic spat between North and South over military drills, but that decision was suddenly reversed early on Wednesday. It followed a threat from President Donald Trump that a June summit with Kim Jong-un could be called off.
Journalists on the trip revealed that they face a 12 hour train ride, followed by four hours on a bus and then a two hour hike to reach the remote test site in the mountains of Kilju County, North Hamgyong province.
Tom Cheshire, Sky News Asia correspondent, described a surreal first day after the first batch of journalists were flown to Wonsan on a charter flight from Beijing on Tuesday.
His team’s satellite phone and radiation dosimeter – a device to measure the level of nuclear radiation they would absorb – were immediately confiscated at the airport, he revealed.
“Officials assured us that the test site is completely safe so we would not need it, despite our repeated protests,” he wrote.
Even after arrival, the journalists were being kept in the dark about their schedule, he continued. “What is sure is that it will be what the North Korean regime want to show. A government minder is by our side every minute.”
Mr Cheshire said their hotel in the port city, which until recently was a base for artillery drills and missile launches, was intended to be a luxury resort and had the overpowering smell of fresh paint.
The visitors were offered a “bizarre banquet” in a large hall. “Music – a violin cover of Frank Sinatra’s My Way – was piped in. On the menu: everything from fondue to steak, as well as fried turtle and shark fin soup, and row after row of silver cutlery,” he said.
“In a country that has suffered so much from famine and poverty, and which continues to suffer, it was a dislocating experience.”
The journalists are expected to be able to film the dismantlement of Punggye-ri, the only active nuclear weapons test site in the world, from a viewing platform at a safe distance.
The exercise is intended by Pyongyang to show good faith over a moratorium on nuclear and missiles tests that it announced in April, amid a diplomatic thaw with South Korea and ahead of a summit with President Trump in Singapore that is still planned for June 12.
Source- The Telegraph