Seoul remains firm on tourism dispute with Pyongyang


Seoul reiterated on Monday its firm stance on a joint tourism project with North Korea, denouncing Pyongyang’s decision to freeze South Korean assets at the Mt. Geumgang resort in the North.

Last week, North Korea announced it would scrap the joint Mt. Geumgang resort project and seek a new partner unless the South agrees to a survey of the assets, in an apparent attempt to get the South to resume the suspended cross-border tours.

“The government, as it has already stated, remains convinced that the North’s unilateral actions must immediately be retracted as they will violate the North’s contracts with (South Korean) businesses, as well as international regulations,” Chun Hae-sung, spokesman for the Ministry of Unification, told reporters.

Chun said it is not yet clear what effect the asset freeze may have on the businesses and cross-border tours, but that the North would be responsible any damage that occurs.

The ministry rejected on Sunday the North’s demand that officials from the South visit the resort today to discuss the asset freeze.

The reclusive communist state has said that five real estate assets at Mt. Geumgang would be frozen: a family reunion center, a fire brigade, a cultural center, a hot springs resort and a tax office.

The cross-border project was suspended in 2008 after a South Korean woman was fatally shot while visiting the resort.

South Korea has said it will resume the tours only after the North agrees to a joint on-site investigation of the shooting incident and offers a state-to-state guarantee of the safety of tourists.
Pyongyang has claimed it has made the safety guarantee during talks with Hyundai Asan, the operator of the resort.

Meanwhile, North Korea warned on Saturday it would take “decisive measures” if Seoul fails to control what the North calls a propaganda campaign against it.

The measures would include the North rejecting military agreements between the two countries on border crossings.

In recent years, activists here have attached flyers critical of Pyongyang to large helium balloons and flown them across the border, causing the North to accuse the South of violating a 2004 agreement between the two to end decades of propaganda warfare. Seoul has said it cannot stop the balloon launches, citing freedom of speech.

The South expressed regret Monday over the North’s warning, saying: “We have sincerely implemented the agreement to end propaganda campaigns against each other and we hope the issue does not create a hitch in the development of inter-Korean relations.”

Chun said the North has not moved to block border crossings by South Korean businesspeople.