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N. Korea shuts down Yongbyon nuclear reactor

North Korea has alerted the U.S. state department it's shut down its main Yongbyon nuclear reactor. The notice comes hours after a South Korean ship arrived in Pyongchang carrying the oil pledged in return for the country's agreement to disarm.

If confirmed by a U.N. inspection team, the shutdown would be the North's first step in nearly five years toward denuclearization.

The agreement eased a standoff that began in October 2002, when the U.S. said North Korean officials had admitted to having a secret uranium enrichment programme.

Then the isolated and impoverished communist state stunned the world by testing its first nuclear device, last October saying it needs nuclear weapons to fend off a U.S. attack. The move compelled the other members of the six-party talks to take a more leading role.

U.S. envoy on North Korea Christopher Hill said that Washington hoped N. Korea will quickly move beyond the mere freeze of the reactor.

“Where we would like to be at the end of the year is of course with the disabling of the Yongbyon facility, we'd like the complete declaration of nuclear programmes,” Mr Hill said.

If Pyongyang abides to its enrichment commitments, North Korea will soon become truly non-nuclear.

Meanwhile, North Korea says it's ready to begin dismantling other nuclear facilities following the shutdown of its sole reactor at Yongbyon. It switched off the reactor after receiving a shipment of oil as part of a disarmament deal agreed last February. The deal followed years of negotiations at six-way talks between China, Russia, Japan, the U.S. and the two Koreas.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have confirmed that the North Korean nuclear reactor at Yongbyon has been shut down.

The agency's head, Mohamed El Baradei, said they had “good co-operation”.

The main U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill says he hopes Pyongyang will move quickly to complete its de-nuclearisation.