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 Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 11:31 GMT
Nuclear inspectors leave N Korea
United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, arriving in Beijing
The two inspectors were surrounded by reporters
The last United Nations nuclear inspectors have left North Korea after being ordered out by the secretive state.

CRISIS CHRONOLOGY
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
31 Dec: Inspectors leave North Korea
Their departure means that monitoring of North Korea's nuclear programme will be limited to images from satellites.

The current crisis over North Korea's nuclear programme developed after the United States halted fuel shipments to Pyongyang last month.

This policy of sanctions against the North was openly criticised on Tuesday by South Korea's President-elect, Roh Moo-Hyun.

"I am sceptical about the effectiveness of the US policy of tailored containment in restraining the North or forcing it to surrender," said Mr Roh, who takes office in February.

Analysts say the gulf between Washington and Seoul on how to tackle the North Korean crisis is wider than ever and that could encourage the North Koreans to push their nuclear ambitions still further.

In a sign of this on Tuesday, Pyongyang's ambassador to Moscow Pak Ui Chun said his country could not make good its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The United States had threatened North Korea with "a preventative nuclear strike," Interfax news agency quoted Mr Pak as saying.

"In these circumstances, we cannot fulfill the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the basic clause of which is the obligation of nuclear states not to use the nuclear weapon against states which do not possess it," he said.

Correspondents say this is the clearest signal so far that North Korea is planning to pull out of the treaty, which it joined in 1985.

Last act

The two United Nations inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in Beijing carrying sensitive documents and equipment.

They declined to speak to reporters, saying they would report directly to the IAEA on 6 January.

An IAEA spokeswoman said the agency regretted their expulsion, but hoped to return to North Korea.

"We've kept an open office. We're storing our equipment there, leaving open the eventual possibility that our inspectors could return," Melissa Fleming said.

On Friday, Pyongyang ordered the inspectors to leave the country amid an escalating stand-off over its plans to revive a mothballed nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 90 kilometres (60 miles) north of Pyongyang.

1992 photo of the Yongbyon reactor
North Korea says the Yongbyon reactor will help meet its electricity needs
Inspectors have been stationed at Yongbyon for the past eight years, monitoring nuclear activities at the complex - which experts say is capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

"Through satellite intelligence we will be able to detect major activities such as the reactivation of a reactor, but there will be no way of finding out what's going on there in detail," a South Korean official said.

Chasm

President George W Bush's spokesman said on Monday that Pyongyang risked forfeiting food and other forms of aid because of its policy.

The US has also urged the United Nations to consider imposing sanctions on North Korea.

Mr Roh said the US should not make unilateral decisions.

"It ought to be borne in mind that a failed US policy toward the North would be a matter of life and death for South Koreans, while it would not be to US citizens," he said.

"Therefore, any US actions [toward the North] must give priority to South Korea's stance."

Mr Roh said he hoped to play a role in talking both sides - Washington and Pyongyang - out of confrontation.

That is a remarkable turnaround for a state that has relied on American military protection for half a century, says the BBC's Charles Scanlon, in Seoul.

On Monday, Russia - often an ally of North Korea - joined the chorus of international criticism at plans to restart work at Yongbyon.


NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR PROGRAMME
An aerial view of Yongbyon
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

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"Even North Korea's traditional allies are becoming alarmed"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

30 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Dec 02 | Media reports
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