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NK to Let 16 SK Workers Stay in Resort

Posted May. 01, 2010 07:27,   


After confiscating and freezing South Korean assets in the Mount Kumgang resort area, North Korea said Friday that up to 16 workers for South Korean companies can permanently stay in the region.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul said, Kim Kwang Yun, director of the North’s Landmark General Development Bureau, visited Hyundai Asan Corp.’s branch office and said, “All workers for South Korean companies except 12 Hyundai Asan employees and four Emerson Pacific staff must leave the country by 10 a.m. Monday.”

As of Friday evening, 76 people -- 38 South Koreans and 38 Korean Chinese -- working for South Korean companies were in the Mount Kumgang resort area. Of the 76 workers, 60 will return to South Korea Monday.

By company, 40 Hyundai Asan workers, seven to eight subcontractor staff, and six Emerson Pacific employees will leave the resort area.

The North is believed to have allowed 16 workers to stay because it needs South Korean staff to maintain the resort’s infrastructure, such as electricity and water supply. Freezing procedures were not done on accommodations to be occupied by the 16 workers, offices, a hospital, a communication center, a passage inspection center, an oil supply center and certain facilities in the power plant.

Pyongyang also did not specify who will be allowed to remain in the resort area. A Hyundai Asan source said, “We have not decided who will remain in North Korea. We believe it is important to maintain communication. Accordingly, those in charge of cooking, maintaining boilers, and managing materials will remain to support those in charge of communication.”

For its part, Emerson Pacific has four South Korean and six Korean-Chinese workers in the resort area. South Korean workers of the golf course operator will remain and Korean-Chinese workers will leave.

The withdrawal of employees of South Korean companies will be the last step of the North’s “special measures” started March 25, when the communist country began investigating South Korean properties around Mount Kumgang.

The North put “confiscation” notes on properties owned by the South Korean government and Korea Tourism Organization such as the reunion center, fire station, culture center, spa and duty-free shop, while freezing tourism infrastructure owned by South Korean companies from Tuesday through Friday.

Not frozen, however, were Mount Kumgang Hotel and OeKumgang Hotel, two North Korean properties rented out to Hyundai Asan.

With Seoul announcing stricter countermeasures against Pyongyang’s unilateral moves, dispute over the Mount Kumgang resort is likely to emerge. A South Korean official said, “Since North Korea’s unilateral moves are illegal and unfair, they are unacceptable. It should accept the consequences resulting from its recent decisions.”

“The South Korean government will take a firm stance. We are considering what details to include in countermeasures and when to announce them.”

The South has considered reducing inter-Korean trade volume and strengthening regulations on supplies to the North, but is worried over the possibility of companies’ resistance. Pyongyang released a statement April 23 threatening far stronger measures if Seoul takes a hard-line stance.

kyle@donga.com buddy@donga.com