North Korea on Tuesday made good on its threat to shut down facilities owned by the South Korean government and the Korea Tourism Organization in the Mt. Kumgang resort area. Officials posted stickers saying "seized" on the entrances to five buildings including a meeting hall for families separated by the Korean War that was built at great expense by the South Korean government only a couple of years ago.
The North also told four Korean-Chinese staffers of tour operator Hyundai Asan who looked after the building to leave North Korea by 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung called the steps "regrettable" and urged the North to "immediately retract its decision."
According to the ministry, North Korean officials shut down two South Korean government buildings, the meeting hall and a fire station, and three KTO facilities, a hot spring spa, a cultural hall and a duty-free shop, between 10 a.m. and noon Tuesday.
A ministry official said, "In case of the meeting hall for separated families, we already took some safety measures to prevent damage to the facilities before the North shut it down. We drained water from the plumbing and turned off electrical devices to prevent short circuits."
No great damage was apparently done to the fire station, as fire trucks and other facilities worth W1.7 billion (US$1=W1,122) had been moved to a building owned by Hyundai Asan, which has apparently been spared thanks to its long working relationship with the North.
Speaking at the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee Tuesday, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said, "If the North keeps taking unreasonable measures, we'll respond strongly because they seriously damage inter-Korean relations."
The North has already threatened to "reconsider" the joint Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex project if lucrative package tours to Mt. Kumgang are not resumed.
"The North will probably keep ratcheting up the pressure for the time being," a security official said. "There's also a chance that it will try to lure some Chinese tourists to Mt. Kumgang or ban South Korean tourists from entering the mountain resort."