Pyongyang persists about buildings demolition

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Pyongyang persists about buildings demolition

North Korea continues to insist Seoul completely dismantle all its facilities at Mount Kumgang, said the South’s Unification Ministry on Thursday, effectively rejecting Seoul’s proposal to proceed with a piecemeal demolition.

Despite Seoul’s attempt to communicate its offer to begin by demolishing 340 or so makeshift container homes at Mount Kumgang, “the difference in the two sides’ basic positions haven’t narrowed,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters, adding the “scope and object of the demolitions have not been decided.”

This idea of dealing first with the container homes - which were erected at Mount Kumgang to provide lodgings for South Korean tourists when inter-Korean tours still ran there in the early 2000s - was first brought up publicly on Monday by Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who said Seoul felt the necessity of “maintaining” these buildings after years of neglect.

Noting the facilities had been “abandoned and unmanaged” since the tours were indefinitely suspended in 2008, Kim said North Korea may interpret Seoul’s offer as intent to demolish the buildings.

These remarks represented the first acknowledgement from Seoul that it would move forth - albeit partially - with demolishing South Korean-owned properties at Mount Kumgang, in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s order in late October that all such facilities be removed from the mountain resort. South Korea tried throughout last month to open inter-Korean discussions over the issue, but was rebuffed by Pyongyang, which issued an ultimatum last week saying it would take measures to destroy the buildings on its own if Seoul continued to dally.

According to the Unification Ministry, the South’s newest proposal to proceed first with dismantling the containers - which it called “dilapidated buildings” - also contained an intent to simultaneously pursue talks with the North, in what appears to be a last-ditch effort to prevent the complete eviction of South Korean ownership at the resort.

While the North did not respond to the proposal directly, the Unification Ministry official said Pyongyang continues to maintain all discussions on the process take place in written form, asserting that this meant it wants a complete dismantlement.

As to when the North may move forward with a unilateral demolition if Seoul does not comply, the official said he could not reveal whether there was a timeline, but that the North Korean side continues to use “ultimatum-like expressions” with regard to their position.

South Korea will continue to push for formal face-to-face talks to resolve the matter, the official said, and would “not presume” the possibility that a unilateral demolition by the North could occur in light of ongoing discussions with Pyongyang. In a separate statement Thursday afternoon, the Unification Ministry said there were no verified signs yet that the North was moving to dismantle the facilities.

North Korea appears adamant about pushing forward with its plans to redevelop Mount Kumgang as part of a project to build a massive tourist zone also encompassing nearby Wonsan and the Masikryong Ski Resort.

According to experts in South Korea, the plan may be primarily aimed at attracting Chinese tourists in order to generate the foreign capital necessary to weather economic sanctions.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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