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S. Korea Now Unsure About Explosion

September 17, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

SEOUL — A South Korean official said today that the government was unsure whether a group of diplomats had been taken to the actual site of a suspicious explosion in North Korea -- or even if there had been an explosion.

Rhee Bong Jo, deputy unification minister, said a mushroom-shaped cloud seen by satellite -- raising fears of a nuclear test -- now seems as if it could have been weather-related. He also said the cloud was 60 miles from where a seismic wave from the purported blast site was detected last week. And the seismic wave originated near a volcano.

"We have not gained additional information that can support the conclusion that there was an explosion," Rhee said.

The diplomats who were offered a tour of the suspect site said Thursday that they were taken to a hydroelectric construction project.

North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun told a visiting British diplomat Monday that the explosion was part of work to remove a mountain to make way for a hydroelectric project. He agreed to allow foreign diplomats to see the site.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has said North Korea's explanation squared with Washington's view.

There was no immediate comment from the North or from the U.S. on the latest comments from Seoul.

North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons programs are the subject of multinational talks.

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