Report: North Korea reduces troops near main nuclear facility

SEOUL, March 28 (UPI) — North Korea is reducing the number of troops stationed at its main nuclear test site of Punggye-ri, a Japanese daily reported.

Asahi Shimbun on Wednesday quoted North Korea-related sources who said Pyongyang had recently relocated two of four battalions stationed at the 19th Regiment.

The remaining two battalions near the test site are composed of 150 technical personnel and 70 security troops.

The development comes ahead of anticipated talks on denuclearization between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim had conveyed his willingness to denuclearize and freeze nuclear and missile development during the course of negotiations with the United States.

The Asahi report projects that the North may close down the Pyunggye-ri, if talks with Washington prove successful.

However, pulling the plugs on Punggye-ri may not be so significant as it is expected to take at least ten years to dismantle the site completely and the North could resume nuclear testing should relations with the U.S. sour.

All six of the North’s nuclear tests were conducted at the Punggye-ri facility, with the most recent test having taken place last September.

Since then, tunneling activities have been ongoing for potential future nuclear testing.

However, a 38 North analysis showed last week that operations at the nuclear test site have significantly slowed down, compared to earlier this month after the North Korean leader met with South Korean presidential envoys and conveyed his willingness to hold denuclearization talks.