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2009/11/26 10:53 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 82 (November 26, 2009)


N. Korea Proposes Talks with South on Resuming Mt. Kumgang Tour

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has proposed talks with the South on ways to resume suspended tours to Mt. Kumgang that used to earn the cash-strapped country millions of dollars.

   To that effect, North Korea intends to hold talks on coordinating an on-site investigation at the resort where a South Korean tourist was shot dead last year, promising to cooperate fully with the South over safety concerns on the resumption of the cross-border tour program, an informed source said Nov. 22.

   The Mt. Kumgang tours were suspended by Seoul in July last year after a female tourist, Park Wang-ja, was shot dead by a North Korean soldier after wandering into an off-limits military zone near the resort on the North's east coast.

   The tours, which began in 1998 under an agreement between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the late Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung, have earned the cash-strapped country US$487 million in tour fees over the past decade.

   Last week, Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun visited Mt. Kumgang for the anniversary of the program. Sources at Hyundai said North Korea has proposed talks with the South on ways to resume suspended tours.

   Ri Jong-hyok, vice chairman of the North's Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee in charge of inter-Korean relations, reportedly met with Hyun and told her that the North is "willing to cooperate on anything that the South wants, including a fact-finding investigation, prevention of future similar incidents, assurance of the safety of tourists and allowing an on-site investigation," sources familiar with Hyun's visit said, requesting for anonymity.

   Ri further told Hyun to relay the message to the South's Unification Ministry, adding that it should be considered as a formal request for government-to-government talks, according to the source.

   After the chairwoman's return to the South, Hyundai reportedly submitted a written statement describing Hyun's encounter with Ri. The Unification Ministry has not denied the reported proposal, but has refrained from commenting.

   It is rare for Pyongyang to offer dialogue through a non-governmental channel. A Hyundai source privy to the matter could not say why the North did not directly contact the South Korean government.

   Pressured by U.N. financial sanctions imposed over its nuclear and missile tests in the spring, North Korea has repeatedly called for the resumption of the tours. In August, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il invited the Hyundai chief to the country and reached accords to reopen the tours.

   Meanwhile, North Korea heaped criticism on South Korea's unification minister Nov. 23, calling him a "traitor" impeding inter-Korean relations, as Seoul balked at Pyongyang's request to resume a lucrative mountain tour.

   The minister in charge of inter-Korean relations, Hyun In-taek, reasserted on the same day Seoul's hard-line position, saying the cross-border relationship "cannot bypass" the dispute over North Korea's nuclear program.

   As to Pyongyang's request for resuming the mountain tour, South Korea's Unification Ministry has not issued a response, playing down the proposal because it came through Hyundai.

   "Because it has come up during discussions with a private entrepreneur, we don't see it as an official dialogue proposal between the governments," ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said. "As is well known, the government contact channels are always open and work well, like the one in Panmunjom," he added, referring to the major inter-Korean hotline at the truce village.

   Observers say the ministry is reluctant to take any inter-Korean action that may pump cash into the North while international negotiations over its nuclear program are still in limbo.

   Also on Nov. 23, the minister reaffirmed conditions for resuming economic projects in a speech to a Seoul forum. "Clamoring for better relations while holding on to nuclear weapons is like searching for a fish on a tree. To catch a fish, one has to come down from the tree," Hyun said. "We cannot bypass the North Korean nuclear issue any longer."

   North Korean media blasted the minister. He is "ramping around recklessly against the trend of the time, which is now leaning toward peace and unification," said Radio Pyongyang, a propaganda radio channel broadcast into South Korea.

   The broadcaster called "malicious" the minister's recent assertion that economic growth remains impossible for North Korea without denuclearization. The North's Korean Central News Agency also called him a "traitor."


S. Korea to Give Tamiflu to North Korean Workers at Joint Park

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will provide the anti-viral drug Tamiflu to North Korean workers at a joint industrial park, where a South Korean man was recently found to have contracted Influenza A (H1N1), officials said Nov. 23.

   The 32-year-old man, who was temporarily staying at the joint park in the North's border town of Kaesong, was confirmed to have the H1N1 virus earlier this month in the first infection to be detected north of the border. He later recovered, but the case alarmed South Korea over the possibility that the highly infectious virus could be transmitted to the impoverished North.

   "Our government is going to take several preventive measures against the outbreak of the new flu inside the Kaesong industrial park," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said at a press briefing.

   The ministry will provide the park with 1,000 doses of Tamiflu and lease two detection cameras, he said. It will also vaccinate five South Korean and 17 North Korean medical staff stationed there. "When there is a request from the North, we are going to provide the drug through an appropriate process," Chun said.

   The joint park, just north of the western inter-Korean border, hosts 116 South Korean firms employing more than 40,800 North Koreans. The Kaesong park opened in late 2004, a major result of the historic first inter-Korean summit in 2000. Factories there produce mostly labor-intensive goods such as electronics, clothing and kitchenware.

   North Korea has not reported any H1N1 infections. In South Korea, 82 people have so far died from the new flu virus.