S. Korea to hold talks with North on fate of resort

AFP , Monday 27 Jun 2011

Private developers Hyundai Asan are seeing their tourism project, a symbol of Korean reconciliation, wither rapidly as North-South relations continue to deteriorate


On Monday South Korea said its officials and businesspeople would visit a jointly-run resort in North Korea after Pyongyang threatened to dispose of Seoul-owned buildings at the troubled project.

Twelve people from the government and from private company Hyundai Asan, which developed the resort, will visit Mount Kumgang on Wednesday, the unification ministry said. "The visit is aimed at checking the North's stance on the properties in the resort and protecting the ownership of our citizens," the ministry, in charge of cross-border affairs, said in a statement.

Mount Kumgang was the first major, joint cross-border business project, developed as a symbol of reconciliation, though it has often fallen victim to worsening political ties.

The South suspended visits by its citizens after a North Korean soldier fatally shot a Seoul tourist who had strayed into a restricted military zone there in July 2008.

The South has said it will not resume the tours until the North allows an on-site investigation into the shooting and gives firm safety guarantees.

The North refuses to accept the conditions and has sealed off a South Korean-owned hotel and other buildings.

In April it stripped Hyundai Asan of its exclusive right to run tours there and announced plans to turn it into a "world-famous" international tourism zone.

On 17 June, Pyongyang warned it would dispose of properties in the zone, and asked South Korean parties to visit the scenic, east coast resort by 30 June to discuss the process.

Hyundai Asan has invested tens of millions of dollars since the 1990s in developing Mount Kumgang.

The tours, which began in 1998 gave tens of thousands of South Koreans their first opportunity to visit the North, earned the impoverished communist state tens of millions of dollars a year in hard currency.

But cross-border ties have been worsening in recent years.

They turned icy in 2010 when Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a warship and killing 46 sailors in March that year.

The North denied involvement in the sinking, but last November shelled a border island and killed four South Koreans.


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