N. Korea Threatens to Scrap Suspended Mountain Tour Program

11 03 2010

SEOUL (Yonhap) — North Korea on March 11 claimed that the Seoul government is effectively blocking South Koreans from visiting its tourist attractions and warned it could revoke all deals covering inter-Korean tours.

The North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee statement carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) follows a fresh round of talks held in February that failed to reach a compromise on restarting tourism to the scenic Mt. Kumgang on the east coast and Kaesong, the ancient capital of the Koryo Dynasty (A.D. 918-1392).

At the meeting, Seoul demanded an official apology for the shooting death of a female South Korean tourist in July 2008 and a pledge that such an incident will not occur in the future. The South has said a formal investigation must be carried out to determine why the shooting occurred. All tours to the famed mountain were suspended right after the shooting, while visits to Kaesong were stopped in December of the same year.

“If the South Korean government continues to block the travel routes while making false accusations, we will be left with no choice but to take extreme measures,” an unidentified spokesman for the committee said. The spokesman said such measures will include the nullification of contracts with South Korea’s Hyundai Asan, which has organized the tours, and freezing real estate and other assets. He did not go into further detail.

The official also claimed that there is growing demand from within the country and abroad to open Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong to tourists. “Kaesong will be open to tourists starting this month, while tours to Mt. Kumgang will be permitted from April,” the spokesman said, adding that South Korean tourists who visit the two areas will be afforded complete safety and offered every convenience.

In addition, he stressed that whether or not South Korean tours to the two locations will restart or not will depend entirely on South Korean authorities, who will have to bear full responsibility if the cross-border exchange does not take place. The Asia-Pacific Peace Committee official emphasized that Pyongyang has said on numerous occasions in talks with Hyundai Asan executives that every effort will be taken to ensure the safety of South Korean tourists in the future. He pointed out that the North already explained in detail that the death of the female tourist was caused by her crossing into a “no entry” zone in violation of set rules.

Despite the latest threat, South Korea made clear that the resumption of tours to Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang depends entirely on Pyongyang providing firm assurances that the safety of tourists will be protected. “There is no change in the government’s stance that concrete measures must be taken to ensure the safety of tourists,” said Unification Ministry spokesperson Chun Hae-sung. He said that all outstanding issues related to the tours must be handled through dialogue.