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Tours to N. Korea Could Resume Next Month

Posted August. 27, 2009 08:30,   


Hyundai Asan Corp. is seeking to resume tours to North Korea’s Kaesong and Mount Kumgang next month.

The tour to Kaesong, a border city in the North where an inter-Korean industrial complex is located, was halted in December last year. That to the scenic mountain has been on a 14-month hiatus since the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in July last year.

Whether the tours will resume next month is unclear since they are contingent on South and North Korean authorities concluding negotiations.

The Hyundai Group yesterday said its subsidiary Hyundai Asan will resume the Kaesong tour Sept. 14 and the Mount Kumgang tour Sept. 21. Accordingly, the company began practical preparatory steps.

A Hyundai Asan source reportedly held talks with the Unification Ministry in Seoul Tuesday to explain the schedules and ask for support. The company, however, said, “We’re not taking steps to resume the tours by setting a certain deadline.”

Whether the tours are resumed is not something the company can unilaterally decide without coordination with the government or negotiations between the two Koreas. As such, analysts say the Hyundai Group has reached partial agreement with the South Korean government.

Philip Goldberg, a U.S. diplomat in charge of sanctions on North Korea, said, “The resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong and the galvanization of the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex are not subject to the U.N. resolution on sanctioning North Korea.” His comment also added momentum to Hyundai Asan’s bid to reopen the tours.

Seoul, however, said it is premature to predict when the tours will resume. One government source said, “If tours to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong are to resume, talks between South and North Korean authorities are a prerequisite.”

“It’s impossible to predict the timing of the tours’ resumption given that the schedule for talks has not been fixed.”

The source added, “Hyundai Asan might have predicted a certain timeline on its own in preparing for the resumption of the tours.”

Once talks between both sides are held, Seoul plans to urge Pyongyang to apologize for the shooting death of the tourist at Mount Kumgang in July last year. The South is also expected to demand solid safety guarantees for South Korean tourists and change the way payments are made for the tours.

swon@donga.com kyle@donga.com