Update at 1700 KST: The South Korean reporters have reportedly arrived in the DPRK, with reporters set to depart for Punggye-ri this evening.
Eight South Korean reporters will fly direct to Wonsan, DPRK on Wednesday to cover the planned dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, the ROK Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced.
North Korea accepted a list of eight South Korean reporters from news agency News 1 and broadcaster MBC this morning through the Panmunjom communications channel, the ministry said.
Speaking at a regular news briefing, unification ministry spokesperson Baik Tae-hyun told press that Seoul “welcomes” the participation of the South Korean reporters in the event.
A government-owned plane carrying the eight South Korean reporters will depart from Seoul Air Base in Seongnam at 1230 and fly direct to Kalma International Airport in Wonsan.
The South Korean reporters will then return to Seoul via Beijing along with other media outlets, the spokesperson added.
The unification ministry did not comment on what had prompted the North’s breaking a five-day silence on whether it would allow South Korean media to cover the event.
“The North Korean side didn’t make any specific mention on the background of receiving it abruptly,” Baik told assembled media.
One reporter at the press center in Wonsan told NK News on Wednesday that a North Korean official had arrived at the venue and placed name cards for the South Korean reporters at around 0910 local time.
International media have reportedly been on standby in Wonsan waiting to board a train to the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, though they are said to have been told the delay is due to the weather.
The news that South Koreans will be able to participate in the event follows the unification ministry’s announcement on Tuesday night that they would again send the list of local reporters through the Panmunjom communications channel.
In that statement, the ministry said South Korean reporters would be able to travel directly to Wonsan using a direct route between the two Koreas – the first such flight since South Korean skiers and government officials flew from the ROK’s Yangyang International Airport to Kalma International Airport in January.
The DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this month announced Pyongyang would invite international journalists to witness the dismantling of its northern nuclear test ground, planned to take place between Wednesday and Thursday.
But although the North originally said it would allow four reporters from the South to cover the event, Pyongyang had since last Friday refused to accept a list of proposed names proposed by Seoul.
Following the departure of an Air Koryo flight carrying international press from Beijing Capital Airport on Tuesday, it appeared that South Korean reporters had been permanently excluded from the event.
The South Korean government in response expressed its “regrets” that South Korean reporters were excluded from media coverage activities “due to North Korea’s lack of follow-up measures.”
Despite a marked improvement since the beginning of the year, inter-Korean relations have suffered since Pyongyang’s abrupt cancelation last week of a planned high-level DPRK-ROK meeting.
In a statement following the withdrawal from talks, the DPRK cited, among other issues, the annual joint U.S.-ROK air combat exercise Max Thunder as being behind its decision to pull out.
Senior North Korean official Ri Son Gwon on Thursday then stated that no further talks would take place until these issues were resolved.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, however, said that he believes inter-Korean dialogue will be resumed after Friday, when the two-week-long Max Thunder draws to an end, in comments relayed to press by Presidential Senior Secretary for Public Relations Yoon Young-chan on Tuesday.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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