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25 October, 2019 05:19:03 PM
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N. Korea proposes talks on destroying S. Korean facilities

Independent Online/ AP
N. Korea proposes talks on destroying S. Korean facilities
In this undated photo provided on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, visits the Diamond Mountain resort in Kumgang, North Korea. Photo: AP

South Korea said Friday that North Korea formally proposed discussions over the possible demolition of South Korean-made hotels and other tourist facilities at the North's Diamond Mountain resort, which leader Kim Jong Un called "shabby" and "unpleasant-looking."

Kim's comments published by the North's state media on Wednesday came after months of frustration in Pyongyang over the South's refusal to defy international sanctions and resume South Korean tours at the site.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said Friday it received a letter from the North proposing discussions on the issue through exchanges of documents.

The ministry said in a statement that the Seoul government would actively deal with the issue "under the principle that protecting our people's property rights is the top priority." It's unclear what the South can do if the North starts destroying the facilities.

Tours to Diamond Mountain were a major symbol of cooperation between the Koreas and valuable cash source for the North's broken economy before the South suspended them in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist.

During a visit to the site, Kim compared the South Korean properties at Diamond Mountain to "makeshift tents in disaster-stricken areas or isolation wards" and ordered them to be replaced by modern North Korean facilities that display more national character and fit better with the natural scenery. He criticized North Korea's policies under his late father as too dependent on the South while vowing that the North would redevelop the site on its own and fully control future tours, according to Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency.

Kim took another jab at Diamond Mountain's South Korean buildings while inspecting the construction of a new spa resort in central North Korea, the KCNA said Friday. Kim said the "refreshing" buildings of Yangdok County Hot Spring Resort were in striking contrast to Diamond Mountain's "architecture of capitalist businesses targeting profit-making from roughly built buildings."

Experts are divided over whether the North really intends to independently develop tourism for Diamond Mountain or is pressuring the South to restart the tours and upgrade aging facilities.

Some say the North during the discussions will demand that the South use its own resources to tear down its facilities.

Others say North Korea would struggle to develop the area on its own under heavy sanctions. Any tours to Diamond Mountain, located on the eastern coast near the inter-Korean border, would be dependent on South Korean travelers as the North's poor transport links make it difficult to bring Chinese tourists there, said Lim Soo-ho, an analyst from South Korea's Institute for National Security Strategy.

Seoul can't restart the tours or any other major inter-Korean economic activity without defying U.S.-led sanctions against Pyongyang, which have been strengthened since 2016, when the North began speeding up its nuclear and missile tests.

South Korea's government and companies have built about a dozen tourist facilities in the Diamond Mountain area, including hotels, restaurants, and spas, to accommodate the tours that began in 1998. North Korea said it took steps to freeze and confiscate South Korean properties at the resort in 2010 and 2011 while blaming Seoul for continuing its suspension of tours.

In a summit last September in Pyongyang, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed to restart South Korean tours to Diamond Mountain and normalize operations at an inter-Korean factory park in the North's border town of Kaesong when possible, voicing optimism that sanctions could end to allow such projects.

Kim raised the subject again during his New Year's speech this year, saying that Pyongyang was ready to restart the projects "without any precondition" while making a nationalistic call for stronger cooperation between the Koreas.

But without a breakthrough in the nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang, the economic projects remain shelved.

BK

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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