Inter-Korean tourism talks urged


A presidential advisory group Tuesday recommended President Lee Myung-bak hold inter-Korean talks to restart the Mt. Kumgang tourism project.

The National Unification Advisory Council has suggested Lee consider talks to find a breakthrough to the deadlocked inter-Korean relations.

The tourism project has been halted since July 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot dead while taking an early morning walk in an off-limits zone near the resort area in the North.

The council recommended that in the first stage, the South’s government and private companies that invested in the resort area sit down together with the North Korean authorities to discuss ways to resolve the communist state’s seizure of South Korean assets there.

In the second stage, it went on to say, the authorities from the two Koreas need to meet to discuss inter-Korean economic cooperation, including opening the tourism project to foreigners.

South Korea has demanded its northern neighbor meet three conditions to resume the tourism project.

It has urged the North to explain in great detail how such a fatality occurred, guarantee that such tragedy will not occur again under any circumstances in the future and implement further safety measures.

The South is standing firm on the conditions, saying if they are not met, it would not consider resuming the tourism project which had been one of only a few sources of hard cash for the Stalinist state.

The North insists it has done what was requested, stating its authorities apologized for the incident and made commitments to safety.

It pressed South Korea to resume the tourism project, and then carried out its threat of seizing assets in the resort area, such as hotels and other facilities.

The presidential council’s recommendation came as the South’s unification minister has shown signs of softening the North Korea policy.

Recently Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said his ministry was willing to propose the North hold another round of reunions of separated families on the peninsula.

The presidential council said North Korea would likely accept an offer to hold inter-Korean talks to discuss Mt. Kumgang tourism, given that the unification minister has sent positive signals to the North.

The council, however, remained skeptical about holding an inter-Korean summit at this time.

It called on the government to demand an apology from the North with regard to its sinking of the warship Cheonan and an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island.