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Satellite imagery shows North Korea razing nuke sites

A satellite image released and notated by Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North on March 30, 2018, shows the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea. (AP photo)

Commercial satellite imagery shows that North Korea has already begun destroying a series of underground facilities used in the past for its powerful nuclear explosion tests.

The North Korea monitoring blog 38 North released images Tuesday purportedly showing that Pyongyang had already started moves to tear down the Punggye-ri site in the country's northeast.

Pyongyang announced over the weekend that it would destroy Punggye-ri, the site of all six North Korean nuclear tests till date, including the most powerful one in September, in a ceremony between May 23 and May 25. The announcement came after North Korean leader Kim Jung Un agreed in a historic meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to embark on a program to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. It also comes ahead of a meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore next month.

A woman walks past a news screen showing file footage of South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C), at a railway station in Seoul on April 25, 2018. (AFP photo)

North Korean authorities even pledged to allow “on-the-spot coverage” of the destruction ceremony to journalists from several countries.

However, analysts writing for 38 North said the destruction activities at Punggye-ri are already underway, adding that several key buildings in the area have been razed to the ground.

“Some of the rails for the mining carts, which had led from the tunnels to their respective spoil piles, have apparently been removed. Additionally, some carts seem to have been tipped over and/or disassembled, and several small sheds/outbuildings around the site had been removed,” said the blog authors in a post containing satellite images of the Punggye-ri.

North Korea’s decision to raze Punggye-ri earlier than expected, especially before the meeting between Kim and Trump, may have taken many by surprise. However, analysts say the September nuclear test in Punggye-ri, which saw Pyongyang exploding its first fusion device, an H-bomb, has effectively rendered the site useless. The test was so massive that it caused numerous landslides in the area and even a significant tremor in neighboring China.

Kim himself announced last month that that Punggye-ri had “done its job” while Chinese scientists have also concluded that the site might be untenable after the nuclear blast opened a hole in the mountain and caused it to collapse upon many parts of the site.

The decision is also a sign that North Korea is now sure that it has enough deterrent power in the form of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that could hit targets in the mainland US and prefers to abandon the test site ahead of schedule as an apparent good will gesture.

Trump took to his Twitter account on Saturday and hailed Pyongyang’s decision to raze Punggye-ri, calling it “a very smart and gracious gesture!”.

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