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IAEA Inspectors on Way to Pyongyang
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Olli Heinonen, chief inspector of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog, set out for North Korea yesterday to agree details on the return of IAEA inspectors to monitor Pyongyang's promised atomic shutdown.

"The purpose of the trip is now to go to negotiate details on behalf of the IAEA on verification of the monitoring and closing down of the Yongbyon facility," Heinonen, deputy director in charge of global nuclear safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters at Vienna's international airport.

"This is the result of the discussions of the six parties... and (a) subsequent step forward after the visit of Mr ElBaradei to Pyongyang in March," said Heinonen, who will be heading a four-member team.

Following a stop over in Beijing today, the team was scheduled to arrive in Pyongyang tomorrow and is expected to stay for five days in the country. Negotiations will last two to three days, Heinonen said.

North Korea agreed in February to mothball its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the center piece of its nuclear program and source of weapons-grade plutonium, in exchange for fuel aid and security benefits as well as a process to remove trade sanctions and Pyongyang from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But Pyongyang refused to honor the agreement until the release of US$25 million at Macao's Banco Delta Asia, frozen after the United States blacklisted the bank accusing it of laundering illicit funds for the country.

On June 14, the Macao government said the money had been released. Moscow confirmed on Saturday that the funds had been transferred to a Russian bank.

Also on Saturday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill - who made a brief trip to the East Asian state last week - said in Tokyo that Pyongyang would shut down Yongbyon very soon, probably within three weeks.

North Korea ejected IAEA inspectors in December 2002 and left the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty shortly afterwards.

In 2005, Pyongyang announced it had nuclear weapons. Last year, the country test-detonated its first nuclear device, drawing widespread condemnation and UN financial and arms sanctions.

(China Daily via agencies June 25, 2007)

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