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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 237 (Nov. 22, 2012)

North Korean Tour Suspension Incurs Losses of 1.7 Trillion Won

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The stalled tour to the North Korean resort of Mount Kumgang has incurred losses of 1.7 trillion won (US$1.55 billion) to South Korean companies and the government for the past four years, a private think tank said on Nov. 15.

   The tour program was suspended in July 2008 after a female South Korean tourist was shot dead in the resort and the South demanded a formal apology for the shooting incident.

   On Nov. 18 marks the 14th anniversary of the launch of the Mount Kumgang tour operated by Hyundai Asan Corp. The company was guaranteed exclusive operating rights by Pyongyang in the late 1990s and first started a sea route program to Mount Kumgang.

   An overland tour was launched in 2003. Nearly 2 million South Koreans visited the mountain resort since the tours began in 1998.

   A report by the Hyundai Research Institute (HRI) said that a total of 2.56 million tourists might have visited the North Korean resort between July 2008 and November 2011 if Hyundai Asan's tour program was not suspended.

   The point of departure for the tour, Goseong County, some 466 kilometers east of Seoul, was hit hard by the suspension, with the number of visitors tumbling 23 percent to 4.83 million in 2011 from 6.21 in 2007. The local government's tax revenues fell 12.5 percent in 2009 from a year earlier, according to the report.

   "Resumption of the Mount Kumgang tour is expected to ease the inter-Korean relations and help set up infrastructure in preparation for a possible reunification of the Korean Peninsula," said the HRI report.


Seoul Urges N. Korea to End Tours for Foreigners to Mount Kumgang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea asked North Korea on Nov. 19 to stop organizing sightseeing tours for foreigners visiting a scenic mountain resort in the communist country while shutting it out to South Koreans.

   Cross-border tours for South Koreans to Mount Kumgang on the North's east coast remain suspended since a South Korean woman tourist was shot to death by a North Korean soldier there in July 2008.

   Seoul has required a tourist safety guarantee from the North as a condition for resuming the tour program, once a cash cow project for cash-strapped North Korea, but the North has not responded
Amid a prolonged stalemate in efforts to reopen the tour across the inter-Korean border, North Korea last summer opened the resort to foreigners and allowed them to use hotels and other facilities built by South Korea.

   Marking the 14th anniversary of the start of the Mount Kumgang tourism program, Seoul's Unification Ministry said that Pyongyang's failure to give a safety guarantee for tourists is the major hurdle to the reopening of the program, now suspended for more than four years.

   "In order for the tour program to reopen, we urge more sincere measures from the North, including inter-governmental talks," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said in a briefing.

   According to Seoul-based Hyundai Asan, North Korea is active in luring in foreign tourists to the resort, which was developed and exclusively run by it.

   Calling the North's use of the Hyundai Asan resort facilities illegal, the Unification Ministry called for the North's sincere action to resume the suspended program with the South.

   Pyongyang has violated Hyundai Asan's exclusive rights to run the program, Kim said, referring to the North's unfair use of the resort facilities in drawing in foreign, mostly Chinese, tourists to the region. The North should suspend its tour business there, he said.

   "The (South) government demands the North recover the South firm's property rights," Kim said, indicating the North's current tour business, adopted in place of Hyundai Asan's suspended program, is in breach of South-North investment agreements.

   Hyundai Asan launched the Mount Kumgang tour program on Nov. 18, 1998 as both Koreas widened exchanges under the then President Kim Dae-jung's engagement policy line toward North Korea.

   The inter-Korean tour project, however, came to a sudden halt in July 2008 and remains suspended following the shooting death of the tourist.

   Seoul has since refused to allow the resumption of the program, citing the lack of guarantee from the North to protect the safety of South Korean tourists.

   Amid the suspension, the North has frozen the South Korean firm's exclusive rights to run tour programs at Mount Kumgang and lured foreign tourists into the resort area through other routes.

   Also on Nov. 19, officials of Hyundai Asan crossed the land border that morning to visit the resort area to mark the 14th anniversary of the opening of the joint inter-Korean cooperation project.

   A bus and a sedan carrying the 19-men delegation led by Hyundai Asan President Kim Jong-hag departed from the east-coast transit office and crossed the heavily fortified Military Demarcation Line at 9:40 a.m.

   Wrapping up his visit to the resort, Kim told reporters that both sides agreed to make arrangements for the resumption of the Mount Kumgang tour, if chances are offered in the future.

   During his visit, a ceremony to mark the 14th anniversary of the opening of the Mount Kumgang tour program was held with five North Korean officials in participation, Kim said.

   Kim also said that South Korean-built hotels and other facilities including a hot spring have been kept in a good shape than expected.


President Lee Urges North Korea to End Its Nuclear Programs

PHNOM PENH (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak urged North Korea on Nov. 20 to end its nuclear programs, fulfill international obligations and work together with the international community to improve the lives and human rights of its people.

   President Lee made the appeal during a meeting of the East Asia Summit, an 18-nation forum grouping the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its eight dialogue partners -- South Korea, China, Japan, the United States, Russia, Australia, India and New Zealand. U.S. President Barack Obama was in attendance.

   "The North Korean nuclear issue is a priority issue. However, from the standpoint of more than 20 million North Korean people, human rights and freedom are also pressing and significant issues," Lee told the meeting, according to his office.

   "I take this opportunity to once again call on North Korea to focus on improving the human rights and lives of North Korean people by abiding by international conventions and joining the international community," he said.

   Obama issued a similar appeal in a speech during a landmark visit to Myanmar a day earlier, urging the communist nation to "let go of your nuclear weapons, and choose the path of peace and progress." "If you do, you'll find an extended hand from the United States of America," he said.

   South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands during a dinner reception in Phnom Penh on Nov. 19. It was their first face-to-face meeting since Obama won a second term in early November.