Asia Crisis

North Korea slows disablement pace further - Kyodo

TOKYO, March 17 (Reuters) - North Korea is slowing down even more the pace of taking apart a controversial nuclear plant, complaining it has not received promised energy aid, Kyodo News Agency reported on Tuesday citing diplomatic sources.

The report comes as regional tension mounts over the North's plan to launch a rocket between April 4 and 8.

Pyongyang says the rocket will carry a satellite, but Tokyo, Seoul and Washington have said it will be a long-range ballistic missile test in all but name. [ID:nSEO94399]

Energy-starved and destitute North Korea relies heavily on imported fuel aid to keep its few factories running, but the aid has dried up in recent weeks. [ID:nSEO27318]

North Korea is now removing 15 nuclear fuel rods a week from its Yongbyon nuclear plant, down from 15 a day last autumn, reported Kyodo, a Japanese news agency. The nuclear plant has produced arms-grade plutonium.

Under an agreement in 2007 between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, up to 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel aid was promised to Pyongyang as a reward for progress on denuclearisation.

Most of the disablement steps, aimed at taking at least a year to reverse in their entirety, have been completed and the last major step is removing irradiated fuel rods from the reactor.

But talks between the six countries have all but ground to a halt, stuck on Pyongyang's refusal to allow nuclear material to be taken abroad for tests. (Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Jerry Norton)