The North Korean regime simply put on a show for the outside world during an event staged in front of foreign journalists showing the ‘destruction’ of the Punggye-ri nuclear site in Kilju, North Hamgyong Province on May 24, claim sources in North Korea.
“A course of action document to halt all nuclear and mid- to long-range intercontinental missile testing was sent down from the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) on May 5,” said a source in Pyongyang on May 30. “The document ordered that all equipment and materials be extracted from the nuclear site before the arrival of foreign journalists, and that the mission must be completed thoroughly to ‘throw sand in the eyes of the enemy.’”
“The document also stated that in accordance with the Party’s aims, the mission must be conducted with the highest level of care to protect the structure of the nuclear testing tunnels.”
The document included the phrase “throwing sand in the eyes of the enemy,” which could suggest that the North Korean authorities staged the event to deceive the international community. The statement may also have been intended to minimize domestic criticism regarding the dismantling of the nuclear site.
“The document ordered that the extraction of nuclear site personnel and the destruction of equipment be completed quickly and with the utmost care. It ordered all equipment and technology-related materials to be safely extracted from the site 10 days before the journalists arrived,” added a separate source in Pyongyang.
He said that the document also ordered relevant personnel to ensure that foreign journalists report on the nuclear site shutdown and the release of a statement concerning the destruction of the nuclear weapons.
During the Third Plenary of the 7th Central Committee of the KWP on April 20, North Korea announced that it would “destroy the nuclear site in the northern region of the Republic to ensure transparency in the process of halting nuclear weapons tests.” Despite this, many observers are treating North Korea’s intentions to move toward denuclearization as suspect.
On May 28, a South Korean press corps team that returned from the Punggye-ri nuclear site stated during a conference with journalists at the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs that “[The event] was staged without any outside experts, and there is no way to confirm with any certainty that the nuclear site is completely shut down because the attending journalists could only view the site from afar.”
Foreign journalists echoed similar sentiment in stating that they were only able to view the destruction of the nuclear site’s underground tunnels from a distance and were unable to confirm that the nuclear site was completely shut down.
Ben Tracy, a CBS reporter (US) who attended the event, said, “The problem is, this is a group of journalists. Nobody there is a nuclear expert, so we have no way of knowing if what they did in front of us actually does render that site completely unusable or if it simply just destroyed the entrances to these tunnels that could then eventually be fixed.”