South sends delegation to resort in NorthA 12-member delegation from South Korea entered the North Tuesday morning to examine facilities at a symbolic mountain resort and ski range, marking another historic moment in inter-Korean relations as Seoul tries to use Pyongyang’s participation in the Winter Olympics to bring the regime back to denuclearization talks.
The inspection, which will last until Thursday, came after both Koreas agreed last week to hold a joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang and have South Korean skiers travel to the Masikryong Ski Resort to train together with their North Korean counterparts.
Lee Joo-tae, director general of the Unification Ministry’s Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Bureau, crossed the border with other Unification Ministry officials and technicians at around 9:30 a.m. by taking a road connecting the two countries along the east coast, which has barely been used since 2008.
In July that year, a 53-year-old South Korean tourist at Mount Kumgang was shot by a North Korean guard, prompting Seoul to impose a travel ban, shutting down one of the last vestiges of South-North cooperation. Since the North opened a tour zone at the scenic landscape in 1998, some 2 million South Koreans had visited until the fatal shooting.
Both countries have yet to agree what kind of cultural event will be held at the resort, or when, though Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung said last week that possible options included a musical performance and poem recital. Local figures from the culture, sports and religious sectors and civic groups would be invited to participate as an audience, he added.
A senior South Korean government official said Tuesday that the delegation quickly toured Mount Kumgang and went to Masikryong Ski Resort the same day, both in North Korea’s easternmost Kangwon Province.
Seoul’s announcement to visit the ski range quickly drew ire from local conservatives because it is known to be a pet project of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which opened on Dec. 31, 2013, in the hopes it would attract more tourists and hard currency for the cash-strapped regime. The luxurious project sits virtually deserted today, North Korea experts say.
The delegation was expected to spend their first night at the resort, the official said. The South Korean government had asked Pyongyang to set up a direct telephone line from Seoul to Masikryong for the delegation to use to communicate with South Korean authorities, to which the regime agreed.
The South Korean delegation will also visit the Kalma Airport in Wonsan, Kangwon Province, to check whether the South Korean skiers can fly from Seoul to the airport when they visit for the joint training session, a route that doesn’t have any precedents.
On the North Korean delegation that visited Seoul and Gangneung, Gangwon, on Sunday and Monday, to check local facilities for two orchestra concerts next month, the South Korean government official said Seoul suggested the first concert to be held in Gangneung on Feb. 8 or Feb. 9, when the PyeongChang Winter Games kick off.
The North has not made its decision yet, said the official, but mentioned that the second concert in Seoul will have to be held two to three days after the first one in Gangneung.
Hyon Song-wol, leader of the Samjiyon Orchestra who led the North Korean delegation, was said to have thanked local officials for the warm welcome she received before returning to the North Monday night.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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