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Diplomats Return From Alleged North Korea Blast Site; South Korea Offers Differing Accounts

Diplomats escorted yesterday by North Korean officials to the alleged site of last week’s explosion near the country’s northern border with China said today that the site was a construction project, but South Korean officials said the reported explosion took place at a different location, Reuters reported (see GSN, Sept. 16).

The group had been taken to a “large construction site” in the northern county of Samsu yesterday, said a Western diplomat who spoke with the observers. The North Koreans told them explosions took place last Wednesday and Thursday, not just on one day as reported by foreign media, the diplomat added.

“There was lots of soil, debris and rocks being transported,” the diplomat said, adding that European Union ambassadors were meeting today and “findings of what was seen yesterday will be discussed.”

A South Korean official said today, however, that Seoul believes the explosion occurred in a county west of Samsu.

“It was in Kimhyungjik county where indications of an explosion originated,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo as saying (Reuters, Sept. 17).

Reuters also quoted the minister today as saying that there had been no explosion at all.

“There is no information to support an explosion in the area where there were indications of an explosion,” said Rhee.

“It is likely the peculiar cloud was [a] natural cloud,” Rhee said, adding that there may have been seismic activity around Mount Paektu on the North Korean-Chinese border (Jack Kim, Reuters, Sept. 17).

British officials said they would await further review of the evidence collected by the diplomatic team.

The diplomats inspected and photographed the site for 90 minutes, British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said in a statement.

“The information they gathered will be reported back to technical experts in capitals. We now need to await their findings,” Rammell said (Reuters, Sept. 17).

Meanwhile, a Russian diplomat who visited North Korea said at least three explosions occurred on Sept. 8 and 9 in connection with a dam project, Agence France-Presse reported today.

Another explosion was planned for later this month, he told RIA Novosti (Agence France-Presse, Sept. 17).

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