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N. Korea allows S. Korea executives to visit resort

31 july 2012, 14:50
Tourism delegation stand around a closed golf course at Mount Kumgang resort. ©REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Tourism delegation stand around a closed golf course at Mount Kumgang resort. ©REUTERS/Carlos Barria
North Korea will allow South Korean business executives to visit a jointly-developed tourism resort despite an acrimonious years-long dispute over the project, AFP reports as it was announced Tuesday.

Mount Kumgang, just north of the tense border, opened in 1998 as a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

But Seoul suspended tours by its citizens after a North Korean soldier shot dead a visiting South Korean housewife in 2008.

In response the North scrapped an exclusive tourism deal with Hyundai Asan, the South Korean firm which developed the resort and is part of the Hyundai Group, and seized its properties there.

But last week it approved Hyundai Asan's request to visit Kumgang for an annual commemoration on August 4 of the death of Chung Mong-Hun, the former chairman of the Hyundai Group who committed suicide in 2003.

Chung was instrumental in pushing ties between North and South, killing himself after it emerged his firm played a role in transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to Pyongyang ahead of a historic summit between the two.

"Some 10 officials including our chief executive will visit Kumgang for the event, which has been held there every year," the company's spokesman told AFP.

Hyun Jeong-Eun, the current group chairman and Chung's widow, will not attend this year's event.

It was unclear whether the executives would meet business counterparts in the North or any Pyongyang officials during the day-long trip, he added.

The South's unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, has approved the visit.

The scenic resort was once a source of hard currency for the impoverished North, earning it tens of millions of dollars a year.

Efforts to restart the tours have foundered amid icy cross-border relations, after Seoul accused Pyongyang of two deadly border attacks in 2010.

All South Koreans including Hyundai Asan workers were forced to withdraw from the resort in August last year. Since then the North has been operating trips to the mountain for Chinese tourists.

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