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N. Korea says blast tied to hydroelectric project

North Korea said Monday that a huge explosion near its border with China was the planned demolition of a mountain for a hydroelectric project and invited British diplomats to visit the blast site, British media reported.
/ Source: The Associated Press

North Korea said Monday that a explosion near its border with China several days ago was the planned demolition of a mountain for a hydroelectric project and invited British diplomats to visit the blast site, British media reported.

North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun said the blast was intentional, responding to a request for information from British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell, who is visiting the North, the British Broadcasting Corp. quoted Rammell as saying.

North Korea told Britain’s ambassador in Pyongyang, David Slinn, that he can visit the blast site as soon as Tuesday to verify its claims that the explosion was part of a construction project, the Press Association of Britain reported. Rammell had asked that ambassadors be allowed to visit the site.

A mammoth explosion Thursday in the isolated, communist North reportedly produced a mushroom cloud more than two miles across.

Blast triggered speculation of nuclear test
South Korean and U.S. officials had said Sunday they were trying to ascertain the cause of the huge cloud. The size of the reported explosion on the 56th anniversary of the foundation of North Korea had raised speculation that it might be a nuclear test. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said there was no indication it was.

In an interview with the BBC, Rammell said Paek told him “that it wasn’t an accident, that it wasn’t a nuclear explosion, that it was a deliberate detonation of a mountain as part of a hydroelectric project.”

Rammell said he welcomed the explanation because North Korea is so secretive.

“If this is genuinely a deliberate detonation as part of a legitimate construction project then the North Koreans have nothing to fear and nothing to hide and should welcome the international community actually verifying the situation for themselves,” Rammell said.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted an unidentified North Korean official also as saying the blast was part of a power plant project.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said at the National Assembly in Seoul that the large cloud near the North Korean-Chinese border was confirmed by satellite pictures, but that overcast skies made it difficult to tell what caused it, the Yonhap news agency reported.

China’s government, which has the closest relations with North Korea, had no immediate comment about the reported explosion.

Blast said stronger than April railroad accident
Yonhap said the blast was stronger than an April explosion that killed 160 people and injured an estimated 1,300 at a North Korean railway station when a train carrying oil and chemicals apparently hit power lines. North Korea invited international aid workers to visit the site, an unusual move for the reclusive regime.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Powell expressed skepticism North Korea would stage a nuclear test explosion. But another senior U.S. administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has received indications North Korea might be trying to test an atomic weapon.

The United States, Russia, Japan, China and the two Koreas have held talks on North Korea’s suspected nuclear weapons development, and agreed to hold another round of negotiations in Beijing this month. No date has been set.

The United States has pushed for North Korea to fully disclose all of its nuclear activities and allow outside monitoring before it receives any assistance. North Korea wants energy aid, lifting of economic sanctions and to be removed from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

On Saturday, North Korea said recent revelations that South Korea conducted secret nuclear experiments involving uranium and plutonium made the communist state more determined to pursue its own nuclear programs.

South Korea said the experiments, conducted in 1982 and 2000, did not reflect an interest in developing weapons.