• Staff Report, Kyodo


North Korea could seek to charge a handful of foreign reporters $10,000 each for a visa to cover live the planned dismantlement of its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, reports said Monday.

North Korea said earlier this month that it will publicly dismantle the Punggye-ri site, where it conducted all six of its nuclear tests, between Wednesday and Friday, inviting journalists from Britain, China, South Korea, Russia and the United States to observe the event at a planned ceremony. It was unclear why journalists from Japan were not invited while media representatives from all other members of the now-defunct six-party talks on denuclearization — plus Britain — were.

On Monday, The Korea Times reported that the North had demanded the sum for the visas, citing unidentified South Korean government sources.

That report said South Korean reporters were exempt, but people familiar with the situation said the rule could be overturned anytime given the reclusive state’s unpredictability.

Asked at a news conference if the reports were true, a South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman said Seoul had not been asked to pay fees related to the dismantlement, but said it was unclear if foreign media attending the ceremony would be required to pay a $10,000 “visa fee.”

“We need to confirm the facts” before commenting, spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said.

The ministry also said the North has yet to respond to a list of journalists the South proposed cover this week’s ceremony, after the South tried to send the list through their communication channel at the truce village of Panmunjom, Baik said.

The North had already on Friday disregarded a list of eight South Korean reporters, four each from a news agency and a broadcasting company, who were chosen to cover the ceremony.

Just days before the scheduled shutdown of the nuclear site, some observers have speculated that North Korea, which abruptly canceled a ministerial meeting between the neighbors earlier this month, could exclude the South Korean reporters.

The ministerial meeting was expected to discuss measures to be taken following the historic inter-Korean summit on April 27. North Korea has recently criticized ongoing military drills between South Korea and the United States.

While noting that South Korea is prepared to wait a little longer, the spokesman said, “We hope that the dismantlement of the nuclear site goes as planned.”

The South Korean reporters were scheduled to be in Beijing on Monday to obtain visas for the trip from the North Korean Embassy.

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