August 09, 2010 13:28
The North has reopened a South Korean-built hotel and restaurant in Mt. Kumgang and has begun welcoming visitors, according to the Choson Sinbo, a North Korean mouthpiece published in Japan. North Korean, Chinese, European and other foreign tourists are visiting Mt. Kumgang the daily reported. Tourists so far stayed overnight at Wonsan and only visited the mountains during the day, "but since July 20 they have been able to stay at the Kumgangsan Hotel."
After it sank the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March, North Korea confiscated a hot springs bath and other real estate owned by the South Korean government in Mt. Kumgang worth W124.2 billion (US$1=W1,162), while freezing a hotel, golf course and other property worth W292.3 billion owned by Hyundai Asan and other South Korean businesses. The move violates an agreement North and South Korea signed when they began the tours in 1998. Now the North has gone even further by profiting illegally by allowing foreign tourists to visit the mountain resort and advertising the tours internationally.
Hyundai Asan has the exclusive right to operate tours to Mt. Kumgang until 2050 and paid the North Korean government good money to operate the hotel. For North Korea to confiscate somebody else's property and use it for its own profit is nothing short of theft.
Tours to Mt. Kumgang have been halted for more than two years after a female South Korean tourist was shot dead by North Korean soldiers there in July 2008, because North Korea has refused to honor South Korea's demands for an investigation and a pledge to prevent a recurrence. No matter how many foreign tourists North Korea may be able to bring to Mt. Kumgang, it will find it very difficult to match the numbers of South Koreans who visited the scenic resort on Hyundai Asan's tours. During its peak, 200,000 South Koreans visited Mt. Kumgang a year. And with only a handful of tourists, North Korea will have a tough time eking out the money to maintain the facilities. But perhaps North Korea is so desperate for money that it is oblivious to the international embarrassment it has become by opening the facilities to tourists.
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