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S. Korea Confirms Reactivation of N. Korea Nuclear Reactor - 2003-02-28

South Korea has confirmed North Korea's reactivation of a nuclear reactor that forms part of a possible nuclear weapons program. Seoul is expressing deep concern over the move and urging the North to comply with international non-proliferation accords.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement Friday confirming North Korea's reactivation of a reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which was shut down under a 1994 agreement with the United States.

The statement expresses "deep worry and regret" at the move, and describes it as "unhelpful to Korean Peninsula peace and stability." The statement also says the reactivation violates global non-proliferation accords. It urges Pyongyang to return to compliance with these accords, and with United Nations nuclear safeguards.

The statement did not specify how Seoul learned the Yongbyon plant was active. It did say the government had been in close contact with Washington and Tokyo, and said it was committed to finding a peaceful solution to the situation.

Following weeks of conflicting reports, Washington said Thursday that the reactor was up and running. Seoul's confirmation comes only days after South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, took office. Mr. Roh has instructed his security advisers to investigate further.

His inauguration Tuesday was partially upstaged by North Korea's test launch of a short-range missile, but Mr. Roh insists he remains committed to the previous administration's policy of maintaining a dialogue with the hard-line communist state.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said Friday that Tokyo had also confirmed the U.S. report on Yongbyon, calling the reactivation regrettable.

The current dispute over North Korea's nuclear ambitions erupted in October when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted to pursuing a secret nuclear arms program. Pyongyang later denied that it is making nuclear weapons, although it retains the right to do so.