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N. Korea Confirms Disabling Nuclear Reactor Monitors - 2002-12-22

North Korea confirms it has disabled surveillance devices at an old nuclear reactor suspected of being used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United States, and South Korea are urging Pyongyang not to restart the power plant.

North Korea says it has tampered with surveillance devices the U.N. nuclear watchdog installed at the Nyongbyong reactor.

The statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency confirms an announcement a day earlier from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The U.N. agency thinks the plant was used to make weapons-grade plutonium before it was closed under a 1994 pact with the United States.

The agency says the North cut most of the seals on equipment and tampered with cameras at one of its five-megawatt reactors. North Korea says the agency did not respond to Pyongyang's requests that it remove the equipment.

Earlier this month, North Korea said it was forced to restart the facilities because the United States and its allies cut off fuel aid to the impoverished country. The deliveries were stopped after the North acknowledged having a program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework accord.

International reaction to the move was swift. From Washington, State Department spokesman Lou Fintor says the Bush administration urges Pyongyang not to restart its frozen nuclear facilities.

South Korea demands North Korea restore the U.N. surveillance equipment. Shim Yoon-jo, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, described removing it as an extremely regrettable action.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is calling for Pyongyang to respond to repeated requests to consult on arrangements for safeguarding the frozen facilities. The agency also wants North Korea to allow it to replace the seals and cameras.

The facilities were sealed and surveillance cameras installed to monitor Pyongyang's compliance with the Agreed Framework.

Under that deal, Pyongyang pledged to freeze its nuclear programs in return for two light-water nuclear reactors for electricity and shipments of fuel oil.

North Korea has repeatedly demanded that the United States sign a non-aggression treaty. President Bush says Pyongyang must dismantle its weapons program before Washington will reopen a formal dialogue.