North to freeze Kumgang assets from tomorrow

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North to freeze Kumgang assets from tomorrow

North Korea has told South Korea it would carry out its plan to freeze South Korean assets at Mount Kumgang tomorrow, and asked South Korean owners of those properties to travel to the resort the same day.

South Korea, however, said it would not comply with the request.

According to the Unification Ministry in Seoul, the North late Friday informed the Hyundai Group of South Korea that it would implement measures that were announced Thursday. Hyundai Asan, a Hyundai affiliate, handles Mount Kumgang tours in Seoul.

Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said, “We will not comply with the demand.”

On Thursday, the North targeted South Korean government-owned properties, including a visitors’ center for separated families, a fire station, a cultural center, a hot spring and a duty-free shop. The move was in response to the South’s reluctance to resume the tours, which have been suspended since July 2008 when a South Korean female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier after venturing into a military zone.

The South has since demanded an official apology and safety assurances as preconditions for the tours’ resumption. The North, though, has countered that it had done enough and had unilaterally set April 1 as the starting date for the tours.

In late March, the North threatened to take “extreme steps” if the tours didn’t resume by April 1 but didn’t give further details. Analysts have suspected the North has grown more anxious to restart the tours this year because it is feeling the effects of international sanctions imposed following the North’s nuclear test last year. The North was raking in $30 million a year by hosting tourists.

The North on Saturday also threatened military action over South Korean activists’ criticism of its government.

The official Korean Central News Agency reported that the North’s military would take “decisive measures” unless the South “takes an understandable measure to discontinue the despicable psychological smear campaign and formally notifies the North side of it.”

The North was referring to South Korean activists’ sending of propaganda leaflets over the border by balloon.

In 2004, the two Koreas agreed to halt decades of propaganda campaigns against each other - the South in leaflets and the North in radio broadcasts over loudspeakers - as part of their reconciliation.

The North Korean report added: “Such foolish acts are a wanton violation and blatant challenge to the agreement reached between the two sides to stop all the propaganda activities against each other.”

The North also said it would “formally review” whether to implement the existing inter-Korean agreement on facilitation of cross-border trips for South Koreans.

Activists and North Korean defectors here have continued to send balloons into the North with criticisms of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. For instance, a defectors’ group named Fighters for Free North Korea this year sent 20,000 leaflets toward North Korea on Feb. 16, Kim’s birthday.

The North takes particular offense to criticism of Kim. But the South has previously said it has no legal ground to regulate activists, citing freedom of speech.

Seoul’s military had no immediate reaction to the North’s threat from Saturday. But the government claimed that it has complied with the 2004 agreement and that it hoped the propaganda issue doesn’t hinder the development of the inter-Korean relations.

A government official also said it was “regrettable” that the North was threatening to restrict cross-border trips.

By Yoo Jee-ho []

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