North tells 4 workers at Kumgang to go home

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North tells 4 workers at Kumgang to go home

North Korea yesterday asked four employees at the South Korean government-run family reunion center at Mount Kumgang to leave North Korea by 10 a.m. today.

Hyundai Asan, the South Korean company overseeing the suspended tours to Mount Kumgang, said the employees were ethnic Koreans from China.

The North Korean move followed threats last Thursday to freeze South Korean assets and expel workers in response to the South’s reluctance to resume the tours. But the North didn’t ask two Hyundai Asan employees at the reunion center to leave.

Hyundai Asan also said the North sealed keyholes on entrances to facilities and put up “keep-out” stickers. North Korea targeted five facilities for asset freeze: the family reunion center, a fire station, a hot spring, a cultural center and a duty-free shop. They are either owned by the South Korean government or by the state-run Korea Tourism Organization. Hyundai Asan and other private companies operate hotels, a golf course and a seafood restaurant.

The North on Sunday asked South Korean owners of the five properties to be at the sites when it closed the facilities, but the South refused to comply with the demand.

Chun Hae-sung, spokesman for the Unification Ministry in Seoul, said the North’s move yesterday was “regrettable” and that it must be reversed immediately.

“We don’t plan to take any action in response to this,” Chun added. “We will monitor the situation and react accordingly.”

Informed of the news while attending a National Assembly meeting, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said further North Korean moves would be regarded as “acts that would gravely damage inter-Korean relations” and that the South would take stern countermeasures.

Tours to Mount Kumgang have remained on hold since July 2008, after a South Korean female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier in the military zone near the resort.

South Korea maintains that the tours won’t resume until the North apologizes and guarantees safety for South Korean tourists. North Korea said the tours had to begin by April 1. In late March, it threatened “extreme steps” if they didn’t.

The tours began in 1998. About 2 million South Koreans have visited the resort over 10 years. The program yielded about $30 million per year for North Korea.


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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