North Korea picks US firm for resort tours: Report

Steve Park, an ethnic Korean living in US, said his company signed a MoU with the North last week.

Washington: Pyongyang has reached an agreement with a US company to help run tours to a North Korean resort, taking a step further towards scrapping a deal with a South Korean firm, a report said on Thursday.

Steve Park, an ethnic Korean living in the United States, was quoted by Yonhap news agency saying his company signed a memorandum of understanding with the North last week on tours to Mount Kumgang.

"This is a project that we have been pursuing for a long while," Park, the president of Korea Pyongyang Trading USA, was quoted as saying.

Under the deal, Park said, his company will be in charge of marketing and attracting investment and tourists to the resort.

He said he plans to visit North Korea this weekend or next week to discuss details, and was confident of attracting substantial US investment in the business.

"I understand (the North) will also select Japanese and Chinese business partners soon," said Park, whose company imports a North Korean liquor branded Pyongyang Soju.

Mount Kumgang, developed by the South`s Hyundai Asan company, opened in 1998 as a symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas. It once earned the impoverished North tens of millions of dollars a year.

But Seoul suspended tours by its citizens after a North Korean soldier shot dead a tourist from the South there in July 2008.

The North reacted by announcing that it would deprive Hyundai Asan of its exclusive right to the tour project and seized its properties there, worth tens of millions of dollars.

Last week it said it would start disposing of South Korean-owned assets.

The South`s Unification Ministry said it was checking the Yonhap report while Hyundai Asan had no immediate comment.

The company`s president Chang Kyung-Chak left on Thursday for the resort to hold a memorial service for former Hyundai Group chairman Chung Mong-Hun, who pioneered exchanges with the North but committed suicide in 2003.

A monument has been set up at the resort for him.

A Hyundai Asan spokesman said Chang might have a chance for talks with North Korean officials on the festering dispute before returning late Thursday.

Bureau Report

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