A North Korean flight carrying international press set to cover the dismantlement of Punggye-ri nuclear test ground left Beijing for Wonsan on Tuesday morning without a group of South Korean reporters originally invited to attend the event.
Eight South Korean reporters from News 1 and MBC have been in the Chinese capital since yesterday awaiting approval of their requests.
The DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this month announced Pyongyang would host international journalists for the dismantling of its northern nuclear test ground, slated to take place sometime between Wednesday and Friday depending on the weather conditions.
Citing the limited space at the nuclear test ground, the North Koreans said they would invite reporters from China, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.
Flight JS 622 was scheduled to depart from Beijing Capital International Airport at 0900 local time, with the Chinese airport’s website reporting it would then head to Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport.
One source onboard, however, told NK News that its true destination was Wonsan’s Kalma International Airport, however, with the journalists set to then travel to the nuclear test ground at Punggye-ri by train.
The NK Pro Aviation Tracker suggests the JS 622 is a rare flight number for national airline Air Koryo, having previously been used as a chartered flight from Myanmar’s Mandalay International Airport to Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport in December 2016.
The source also said reports in South Korean media that North Korea had asked for USD$10,000 in visa fees for the visit were untrue – claims also denied by a unification ministry spokesperson on Monday.
The ROK’s Ministry of Unification on Tuesday expressed regret that the South Korean reporters had not been included in the delegation “despite inviting them to the ceremony for dismantling Punggyeri nuclear test site scheduled between May 23 and 25.”
“The Government reiterates that the purpose of the ‘Panmunjeom Declaration’ adopted between leaders of the South and the North, is to end confrontations and hostilities of the past, and move toward a new era of reconciliation, peace and prosperity by fulfilling all inter-Korean agreements,” the statement continued.
The South Korean reporters’ exclusion from the Punggye-ri demolition follows days of attempts by Seoul to confirm their credentials with Northern counterparts.
The unification ministry on Tuesday told NK News the North had again not responded to an attempt by Seoul to send a list of proposed reports through the Panmunjom communications channel.
The news that the North had not accepted a list of South Korean reporters hoping to cover this week’s event first emerged on Friday, two days after Pyongyang abruptly withdrew from a planned high-level inter-Korean meeting.
Speaking at a regular news briefing, unification ministry spokesperson Baik Tae-hyun said Monday morning that the North’s liaison office had told their Southern counterparts they hadn’t received instructions from Pyongyang to accept the list of South Korean reporters.
The news comes amid newly-strained relations between the two Koreas following months of historic rapprochement.
Chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Ri Son Gwon last week warned Seoul that no inter-Korean meetings would take place until pending issues were resolved.
And Monday saw one South Korean civic group confirm that a planned visit to the North to discuss inter-Korean events would not take place due to a lack of response from the North.
Additional reporting by Chad O’Carroll
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Juche Travel Services
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