Area hopes for renewal of tours to Mount Kumgang

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Area hopes for renewal of tours to Mount Kumgang

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Buses that used to transport tourists to the Kumgang Resort in North Korea are parked at the Hwajinpo Asan Rest Area near the inter-Korean border in Gangwon. By Lee Chan-ho

The Unification Observatory, located on the northernmost area near the Demilitarized Zone in Goseong County, Gangwon, was crowded by a large number of visitors wishing to get closer to North Korea yesterday.

“This is the closest I can come to Mount Kumgang. I highly wish that the Mt. Kumgang tour program [that has been stalled] will resume in the near future,” said a 48-year-old visitor named Myung Ho-nam from Yeosu, South Jeolla.

Myung’s hope for the revived joint Kumgang tour program is now widely shared by local Goseong County residents, who are in full anticipation that the county’s falling revenue will surge again once the suspended Mount Kumgang tour resumes.

The joint Mt. Kumgang tour program, which began in Dec. 1998 under the Kim Dae-jung government, has been shut down since a female South Korean tourist was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier on July 11, 2008.

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But with the proposal by Pyongyang for government-level talks on reviving the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Kumgang tour program, Goseong residents are hopeful that the 5-year-business suspension could soon come to an end. Goseong County was where Mt. Kumgang tourists from the South had to stop to take a bus to the mountain.

“When the tour program was in full swing, I made as much as 3 million ($2,679) won a day from snacks here,” said a snack store owner named Park Won-ja, who added after the tour program ground to a halt, she sometimes sold nothing during the day as no one visited.

Workers at Mountain Kumgang Condo in the country are also expecting the two Korean governments to agree on the tour resumption. With the closure of the Kumgang Resort, occupancy rates of its 225 rooms dropped to around 30 percent.

“We are going to prepare for repair work in case the resort reopens in the future,” said condo manager Chun Hee-seo.

The county office is also getting ready for a possible outcome from inter-Korean talks on resolving the halted joint business projects. Hwang Jong-guk, head of the Goseong County Office, has instructed local government workers to prepare banner signs welcoming a restart of the tour.

The closure of the Kumgang Resort has dealt a heavy blow to Goseong’s economy over the past five years. The county office reported a total of 159 restaurants have gone out of business with 492 local residents losing their jobs. The office added the closure of the joint tour program has cost the county 171 billion won over the five-year-period.

[jkkang2@joonagang.co.kr]

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