South officials travel to North to inspect resort

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South officials travel to North to inspect resort

In preparation for the upcoming reunions for families divided by the Korean War, 35 officials from Hyundai Asan and other businesses traveled to the Mount Kumgang resort yesterday to inspect the facilities before the reunion, according to the South Korean Ministry of Unification.

Officials are there to examine the premises, including the hotel and reunion center.

North Korea seized South Korean assets at the resort in April out of anger toward Seoul’s refusal to resume cross-border tours.

Tours to the North were halted in 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier.

North Korea had demanded Seoul resume cross-border tours in order to utilize facilities at the resort during talks to negotiate the reunions. But South Korean officials didn’t budge from their stance that reunions would be a no-go if the North insisted on resuming cross-border tours, after which the North agreed to hold the event at the resort.

Hyundai Asan, a branch of Hyundai Group, is South Korea’s largest private investor at North Korea’s resort and is also involved in the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said with the exception of 10 people, the South Korean inspectors will return today. The 10 remaining will stay in North Korea until the end of the reunions on Nov. 5.

The visit follows the Unification Ministry’s announcement on Tuesday that the South Korean government had informed the North that its position on discussing the resumption of Mount Kumgang tours would be disclosed after the reunions.

North Korea had requested the two Koreas hold working-level talks on Oct. 15 in Kaesong to discuss restarting cross-border tours. Seoul’s decision to push for tourism negotiations after reunions is seen as a move to separate the reunion and tourism issues altogether, but experts say yesterday’s visit to the resort could also provide a chance to take a closer look at South Korea’s seized assets to prepare for future tourism-related talks with North Korea.

Workers hired for the resort by South Korea were expelled when the South Korean assets were frozen by the North. Meanwhile, the Red Cross is confirming the status of potential North Korean reunion family members. Results from each country will be exchanged Oct. 18.

By Christine Kim []
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