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IAEA to Pull Inspectors Out of N. Korea - 2002-12-28

Inspectors monitoring North Korea's nuclear program are getting ready to leave that country. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has confirmed it is making arrangements for the departure. That would mean the agency would have no possibility of monitoring nuclear activities in the communist state.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, has started to prepare for the departure of three inspectors currently based in North Korea. On Friday, Pyongyang insisted that the job of the inspectors was finished and they should leave immediately. North Korea is reopening a nuclear reprocessing laboratory at its Yongbyon facility that had been mothballed under international agreement. The plant is reported to have the capability of producing plutonium that could be used to manufacture of nuclear weapons.

On Friday the IAEA had made one last appeal to North Korea to allow its inspectors to stay on and monitor the reactivation of the nuclear facility. The agency's chief spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, described the decision to expel the inspectors as deeply regrettable.

"The director general today gave word to the inspectors to start making preparations to leave immediately," said Ms. Fleming, "and they are packing up today and leaving for Pyongyang tomorrow and taking the first flight out, which is not until Tuesday. The director general has reacted with regret saying that this is a blow to the world's nuclear non-proliferation regime." The director general of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, accused North Korea last week of nuclear brinkmanship.