North Korea expels nuclear plant monitors

North Korea has expelled UN monitors from its plutonium plant and plans to start reactivating it next week, breaking a 2007 deal to scrap its nuclear weapons programme.

The Stalinist state said last week it was working to restart the Yongbyon complex it had been dismantling since last November under a disarmament-for-aid agreement with the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

"There are no more seals and surveillance equipment in place at the [plutonium] reprocessing facility," said a spokeswoman for the the International Atomic Energy Agency. "[North Korea] further stated that from here on, IAEA inspectors will have no further access to the reprocessing plant. [North Korea] also informed IAEA inspectors that they plan to introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing plant in one week's time."

Western diplomats and nuclear analysts have said North Korea would need at least several months to bring the largely broken up installation back on line. Last month, North Korea said it planned to restart Yongbyon because it was angry at Washington for not taking it off its terrorism blacklist. The United States has said it will de-list Pyongyang once it allows inspectors to verify claims it made about nuclear arms output.

"I'm still inclined to see this as North Korea clawing back tactical manoeuvring room. But it's very hard to read North Korea right now," said a European diplomat.

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