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North Korea removes key facilities at missile launching station

By Wooyoung Lee
North Korea removes key facilities at missile launching station
This satellite image, dated Sunday, provided by 38 North, shows key facilities being dismantled at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, North Korea's main missile engine testing site since 2012. Image courtesy of Yonhap

SEOUL, July 24 (UPI) -- Satellite images show that North Korea has begun dismantling major facilities at a rocket launching site used to test long-range ballistic missiles, a U.S. think tank said.

North Korea appears to have started removing key facilities, such as a missile transfer structure and a rocket engine test stand, used to develop engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in the northwestern province, satellite photos revealed by 38 North showed.

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"Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North's intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence building measure on the part of North Korea," 38 North said.

The dismantlement has been made as a follow-up to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's pledge at the June 12 summit to dismantle one of the missile test sites.

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CBS News identified it as the Sohae station that Kim promised to destroy, citing U.S. government officials in June.

The July 20 photo showed that work was underway to remove structures at the launch pad and the engine test stand. Another photo taken two days later shows further progress in removing the launch pad and the continued presence of a crane and vehicles thought to be used for dismantling structures.

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The photo from Sunday shows visible progress made in the dismantlement.

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This Sohae Satellite Launching Station had been used to test major long-range ballistic missiles and satellites.

The facility, completed in 2009, was first used to launch the Unha 3-rocket in April 2012. In February 2016, the North launched its Gwangmyeongsong-4 satellite at the site, a month after the fourth nuclear test, according to Hankyoreh.

The South Korean Presidential Office welcomed the North's dismantlement of its missile launch site on Tuesday.

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"It's a good sign, better than doing nothing. They are taking it step by step toward denuclearization," said Nam Gwan-pyo, deputy director of the National Security Office, according to Yonhap.

Nam added that it requires an analysis of the North's intention for conducting the dismantlement in a discreet manner. The North didn't turn it into a spectacle as they did with the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in May, when a multinational foreign press corps was invited to watch the demolition of the site.

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