North Korean border city draws 100,000 tourists


SEOUL, South Korea – About 100,000 tourists have visited historic sites in the North Korean city of Kaesong since a new tour program to the communist country opened in December last year, a South Korean tour operator said Wednesday.

The number of tourists to Kaesong, just north of the heavily fortified Korean border, exceeded the 100,000-mark Wednesday, Hyundai Asan Corp., the Seoul-based tour operator, said in a statement.

Company officials said most of the tourists have been South Koreans but about 2,600 Americans, Japanese and other foreigners also have taken part in the program. The Kaesong tours include visits to a famous waterfall, a temple and a museum

Hyundai Asan also has run a high-profile tour program to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain since 1998. But that was suspended in July after a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean woman who allegedly wandered into a restricted military area at the resort.

Before the shooting incident, about 10,000 people traveled to Kaesong every month, but the number of monthly visitors declined to about 7,450 in August and 5,770 in September, according to Hyundai Asan. The Diamond Mountain resort had drawn nearly 2 million people before the tours were suspended, according to Hyundai Asan.

The shooting incident worsened ties between the divided Koreas, which already had been strained since a new conservative, pro-U.S. government was inaugurated in Seoul in February with a pledge to take a tougher line on Pyongyang. The North cut off all government-level talks with the South in response to the Seoul’s harder line under President Lee Myung-bak.

North and South Korea remain technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce that has never been replaced by a peace treaty.