North Korea informs South it will start quitting joint tour program this week

By Hyung-jin Kim, AP
Sunday, April 11, 2010

NKorea to start quitting joint tour this week

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea informed South Korea that it will begin quitting a joint tourism project in the communist country this week, officials said Sunday, in another setback to relations between the countries.

North Korea said Thursday that it would freeze some South Korean assets at scenic Diamond Mountain, expel South Koreans working at the site and restart the stalled project with a new partner.

A day later, the North told the South that it will carry out the plan Tuesday, starting with the freezing of the South Korean government-owned assets that include a reunion center for families separated by the Korean War, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

It was not clear when the North would expel South Korean personnel, according to Hyundai Asan, the resort’s South Korean tour operator that relayed the North’s plan to the South Korean government.

The North said it would freeze assets at the site while South Korean officials were in attendance, but the South has no intention of sending officials to comply with the North’s request, ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

South Korea halted tours to the mountain resort on North Korea’s east coast in July 2008 after a South Korean tourist was fatally shot after allegedly entering a restricted military area next to the resort.

The North had recently expressed its willingness to restart the tours, a legitimate source of hard currency for the impoverished regime. But South Korea said the North must first accept a joint investigation into the shooting death.

North Korea’s decision to quit the tour project “is the inevitable consequence entailed by the moves of the South Korean authorities to escalate the confrontation with fellow countrymen,” the North’s government-run Minju Joson newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency on Sunday.

Relations between the two Koreas have worsened since a conservative Seoul government took office in early 2008 with a pledge to get tough with the North.

But North Korea has tried to reach out to Washington and Seoul since last summer in an about-face that analysts and officials say shows the North feels the pain of U.N. sanctions adopted to punish it for its nuclear test in May.

will not be displayed