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2009/10/06 11:09 KST
(LEAD) N. Korea in final phase of restoring nuclear facility: source

By Sam Kim
SEOUL, Oct. 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be in the final phase of restoring its key nuclear facility disabled under a six-nation disarmament deal, a South Korean source said Tuesday.

   The Yongbyon nuclear facility, north of Pyongyang, underwent a disablement process under a deal reached in 2007 with South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China.

   North Korea declared this year it would start reversing the process in protest against U.N. condemnation of its long-range rocket launch on April 5.

   "There are signs that the restoration of the Yongbyon facility is in its final stage," the South Korean defense source said, citing intelligence reports presented at a parliamentary audit this week.

   The six-nation talks have been stalled since late last year when North Korea disputed U.S. assertions on ways to verify its past nuclear activities.

   North Korea tested a nuclear device in May for the second time in three years, drawing harsher international sanctions, and announced it would no longer rely on the multinational talks.

   In September, North Korea said its uranium enrichment program -- a second track to nuclear weapons development in addition to its plutonium-based one -- has entered into its "completion phase."

   The North also said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council that it is weaponizing plutonium extracted by reprocessing spent fuel rods at the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

   But in recent meetings with top Chinese officials, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said his regime was willing to return to both bilateral and multilateral negotiations on its nuclear program.

   North Korea expelled international monitors from Yongbyon in April, forcing the U.S. and South Korean governments to mainly rely on satellite photos to track its nuclear activities.