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 Friday, 27 December, 2002, 21:45 GMT
N Korea urged to rethink nuclear plans
North Korean border guard keeps watch
America called on N Korea to abandon its nuclear programme
The nuclear watchdog of the United Nations has asked North Korea to reconsider its decision to expel UN inspectors and to reactivate its nuclear programme.

Satellite photo of Yongbyon plant in 2000 by Space Imaging
16 Oct: N Korea acknowledges secret nuclear programme, US announces
14 Nov: Fuel shipments to N Korea halted
12 Dec: N Korea threatens to reactivate Yongbyon plant
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Yongbyon reactor
26 Dec: UN says 1,000 fuel rods have been moved to the plant
27 Dec: N Korea says it will expel UN nuclear inspectors
The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dr Mohamed ElBaradei said inspectors - at the Yongbyon plant - were needed for "the immediate installation of containment and surveillance measures".

Mr ElBaradei said he expected the North Korean Government to respond quickly "so that, if necessary, arrangements for the departure of IAEA inspectors can be made".

"This is one further step away from defusing the crisis," he said.

The United States rebuked Pyongyang for its decision to reactivate the nuclear plants.

"We call on the DPRK to reverse its current course and to take all steps necessary to comply with the IAEA... to eliminate its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable manner," said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.

Pyongyang says the US is looking for a pretext for invasion since US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared earlier this week that war against Iraq would not prevent the US from engaging in military action elsewhere.

This is one further step away from defusing the crisis

Mohamed ElBaradei
IAEA Director General

But another US spokesman, Scott McClellan, rejected such claims, saying that the US was not contemplating military action, and instead wanted to focus on diplomatic moves with allies in the region.

US officials also said Washington was contemplating sending an envoy to the region next month to meet allies.

The US-UN command overseeing the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea also said on Friday that North Korean border guards had moved banned machine guns into the zone six times in the past month.

'Grave concerns'

There were worried calls from North Korea's neighbours as well.

Japan urged Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear arms programme.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said there were "grave concerns" about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

And earlier South Korea's President-elect Roh Moo-hyun also weighed into the debate for the first time on Friday.

He warned that Pyongyang's moves to reactivate the Yongbyon reactor could severely hamper efforts to rebuild ties between the two countries.

Controversial plans

A 1994 fuel aid deal which had led to the closure of the Yongbyon plant broke down last month when the US suspended shipments - alleging that the North had admitted to restarting a nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea's wrote to the IAEA about its decision to expel UN nuclear inspectors.

Pyongyang was planning to reopen a reprocessing plant which could start producing weapons grade plutonium within months.

North Korea has already removed IAEA-installed equipment and seals from Yongbyon - what the agency calls its "eyes and ears" at the plant - in preparation for reactivation.

Map showing North Korea's nuclear sites
Yongbyon: Five-megawatt experimental nuclear power reactor and partially completed plutonium extraction facility. Activities at site frozen under 1994 Agreed Framework
Taechon: 200-MWt nuclear power reactor - construction halted under Agreed Framework
Pyongyang: Laboratory-scale "hot cells" that may have been used to extract small quantities of plutonium
Kumho: Two 1,000-MWt light water reactors being built under Agreed Framework

  The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"The world will be left in the dark about their nuclear activities"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

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