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Britain: North Korea Invites Diplomats to Blast Site - 2004-09-13

A British minister visiting North Korea says Pyongyang will let foreign diplomats visit the site of a large explosion that triggered fears of a nuclear weapons test.

Following a British request, North Korea has agreed that some foreign diplomats can inspect the scene of last week's blast near the northern border with China.

British Foreign Office minister, Bill Rammell, told British television the issue came up during his talks with North Korean officials in Pyongyang.

"The explanation I have been given is that this was a deliberate explosion designed to blow up a mountain to help with the construction of a hydro-electricity plant," Mr. Rammell said. "I said that was not good enough and I pressed very strongly that our ambassador and others should be allowed to go and visit the site to assure ourselves that their explanation was, in fact, the correct one and I am very pleased that they have now agreed for that visit to take place tomorrow [Tuesday]."

South Korean and Western intelligence sources say that a major explosion last Thursday caused a four-kilometer-high, mushroom-shaped dust cloud. Space satellites recorded the blast. But U.S. and South Korean officials have played down speculation that North Korea conducted a nuclear weapons test.

Mr. Rammell says he discussed North Korea's nuclear program and its human rights record during three days of talks. He called the progress on those issues "modest". He said North Korea did not agree to an immediate resumption of six-nation talks on its nuclear ambitions, but he said Pyongyang will hold more discussions on human rights issues next Monday at the United Nations.