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Multiple Sources Claim, North Korea Resuming Missile Site Construction

"Should we consistently pursue peace with firm determination, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and permanent peace will definitely come,"

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South Korea
A TV screen shows a satellite image of a North Korean missile launch site, during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2018. VOA

Multiple sources have reported that North Korea has restored part of a missile launch site it had begun to dismantle after pledging to do so at the Singapore summit with U.S. President Donald Trump last year.

38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project, says satellite images depicted structures on the launch pad at the Tongchang-ri launch site, also known as Sohae, had been rebuilt between February 16 and March 2.

Furthermore, South Korea’s Yonhap News said that the country’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) briefed lawmakers that the work was taking place and involved replacing a roof and a door at the facility.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also concluded North Korea is “pursuing a rapid rebuilding.”

FILE - A satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea.
A satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. VOA

The CSIS report added, “Activity is evident at the vertical engine test stand and the launch pad’s rail-mounted rocket transfer structure.”

Following his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last year, President Trump told reporters at a press conference that the North Korean leader promised to destroy a major missile engine testing site.

The president didn’t identify the site at the time, but Reuters was later informed by a U.S. official the facility was located at Tongchang-ri.

Neither the U.S. State Department, the White House, nor South Korea’s Unification Ministry has commented on the report. South Korea’s presidential office, the Blue House, has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

In addition, International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano revealed in a quarterly report that North Korea’s Yongbyon uranium-enrichment facility remains active.

Amano also stated North Korea is continuing work on building an experimental light-water reactor at the facility.

FILE - Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Yukiya Amano of Japan, addresses the media during a news conference in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 22, 2018.
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Yukiya Amano of Japan, addresses the media during a news conference in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 22, 2018. VOA

It’s unclear what effect the news surrounding developments at Tongchang-ri and Yongbyon will have on diplomatic efforts with North Korea, but U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said Tuesday the United States would look at increasing sanctions against Pyongyang if Kim did not end its nuclear weapons program.

Speaking on the Fox Business Network, Bolton said Washington was waiting to see if Pyongyang was committed to abandoning its “nuclear weapons program and everything associated with it.”

“If they’re not willing to do it, then I think President Trump has been very clear … they’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them and we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact,” Bolton said.

U.S. lawmakers, however, aren’t delaying in trying to ramp up sanctions on North Korea.

Tuesday, Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democrat Chris Van Hollen introduced a bill to impose sanctions on any bank that does business with its government.

Fred Warmbier, right, listens as his wife Cindy Warmbier, speaks of their son Otto Warmbier, an American who died last year, days after his release from captivity in North Korea, May 3, 2018, at the U.N.
Fred Warmbier, right, listens as his wife Cindy Warmbier, speaks of their son Otto Warmbier, an American who died last year, days after his release from captivity in North Korea, May 3, 2018, at the U.N. VOA

The measure had the added endorsement of the parents of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who died after being imprisoned in the reclusive country as a result of the treatment he received during captivity.

Dubbed the “Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea (BRINK) Act,” Otto’s parents said they believed the legislation would provide helpful in eliciting change in North Korea.

“We continue to support the bill and appreciate them honoring our son’s memory,” the Warmbiers said.

The measure unanimously passed the Senate Banking Committee last year, but did not advance further.

To become law, the bill needs to pass both houses of the U.S. Congress and be signed into law by President Trump.

Resumption of talks

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has ordered his cabinet to pursue all avenues to facilitate a resumption of discussions between Washington and Pyongyang.

“We look forward to continuing the dialogue between the two countries, and I expect that the two leaders will meet again in the near future and achieve the settlement this time,” Moon said earlier this week while presiding over a National Security Council meeting.

FILE - A visitor takes images, from left, of U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an exhibition at an annex of the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 3, 2019.
A visitor takes images, from left, of U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an exhibition at an annex of the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 3, 2019. VOA

After the Hanoi summit resulted in no agreement being signed between President Trump and Kim, Moon said South Korea’s role has become important and directed ministers to take action.

Moon said he wanted officials to “confirm the differences in the positions of the two sides” and “look for ways to narrow the gap.”

“I believe that the North American dialogue will eventually be settled, and it’s very undesirable to have a vacuum and deadlocked stage for a long time, so please work hard together for the resumption of the North American dialogue,” Moon said.

He added, “I would like to find out the best ways to help North American dialogue through the development of inter-Korean relations within the framework of sanctions.”

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Moon specifically identified projects agreed to during his summits with Kim, including the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang.

Speaking Tuesday at the commission ceremony of the Korean Naval Academy, Moon spoke optimistically of the future.

“Should we consistently pursue peace with firm determination, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and permanent peace will definitely come,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. To Begin Search Through The Remnants Of The Islamic State’s Final Enclave

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

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Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol near the village of Baghuz in the Syrian countryside, March 20, 2019. VOA

U.S.-backed forces are starting to search through the remnants of the Islamic State’s final enclave in northeastern Syria, looking for fighters, mines and booby-trapped explosives.

The effort Wednesday to sift through the broken buildings and shredded tents that litter the landscape in the town of Baghuz comes a day after Syrian Democratic Forces took the area from IS fighters in what officials described as a significant blow to the terror group.

SDF officials said as many as 1,500 more people surrendered following Tuesday’s incursion into IS’s final stronghold, including hundreds of injured IS fighters.

Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

But concerns run high that fighters lurk in trenches dug all around the former IS enclave, as well as in a complex network of caves and tunnels, which some officials said could run for more than two kilometers.

An unknown number of IS fighters have also retreated to a sliver of land along the Euphrates River, and there are no estimates for how many fighters could be hiding in other parts of Baghuz.

“A group of Daesh in Baghuz still fight back and hold their families as human shields,” Zana Amedi, a media official with the YPG militia, which has been supporting the SDF offensive, told VOA Wednesday, using the terror group’s Arabic acronym.

Despite the official caution, small celebrations broke out Wednesday around Baghuz, with some groups of SDF fighters playing music and dancing.

“We have won. We have eliminated the enemy, the terrorists,” Majid Hejjo, an SDF fighter, told the French news agency.

“The comrades are tired, and the battle is over,” said another SDF fighter.

No ‘complete victory’ yet

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump was equally effusive, telling reporters on the South Lawn of the White House that the very last speck of IS-held territory would be liberated within hours.

“There is no red,” Trump said just hours after an intelligence briefing, showing off a map that compared IS-held territory now and the day he was elected. “In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot, which will be gone by tonight.”

Still, SDF officials and U.S. defense officials have been wary of saying the fight against the terror group’s self-declared caliphate is over.

It has been three months since Trump first announced the defeat of IS in a tweet,and more than a month since he told a meeting of ministers from coalition countries that the end of the caliphate “should be formally announced, probably sometime next week.”

More recently, multiple SDF officials have also forecast the fall of IS within days or even hours, only to see efforts slowed by fierce fighting and the presence of tens of thousands of civilians, mostly the wives, children and family members of IS fighters.

They now say more than 5,000 people have fled Baghuz since SDF resumed its final assault on IS just over a week ago, despite earlier saying only about 1,000 civilians and 300 fighters were holed up in Baghuz shortly after the operation to liberate the town got under way last month.

Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group's last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019.
Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group’s last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019. VOA

In all, SDF says more than 5,000 IS fighters have surrendered or been captured over the past month, while another 1,300 have been killed in the fighting.

The U.S.-led coalition also said Wednesday there has been no letup in efforts to ensure the terror group is defeated.

“The ground offensive, coalition airstrikes and artillery continue as needed,” coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan told VOA. “The SDF feel they are in control of the area, but as long as Daesh puts up any type of fight and hides in tunnels, they cannot declare complete victory.”

Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

‘Tens of thousands’ of fighters

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

Thousands of SDF troops have massed around Baghuz for weeks, laying siege to the town in an effort to liberate the final IS enclave in Syria. Officials said Kurdish special forces from Iraq also had been brought in to help with the operations.

Also Read: After Failed Hanoi Summit, U.S. Imposes First North Korea-Linked Sanctions

Even once an official announcement is made, U.S. defense officials caution IS still has “tens of thousands” of fighters working either as part of sleeper cells or as part of an active, clandestine insurgency.

Additionally, senior officials believe most of the group’s senior leadership, including its self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remain at large. (VOA)