Seoul: North Korea is threatening to strip a South Korean conglomerate of its exclusive right to conduct tours to the impoverished country over what it calls the South`s strategy of isolating it through international sanctions.
South Korea suspended tours to the North`s scenic Diamond Mountain resort in 2008 after a South Korean was shot to death there. Pyongyang has proposed resuming the tours but has rebuffed Seoul`s calls for an investigation into the shooting.
An unidentified spokesman for the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee said in a statement released early Saturday by the Korean Central News Agency that the North had informed South Korea`s Hyundai Group that it "may terminate" the conglomerate`s monopoly right to conduct the tours.
"There is no more prospect of resuming the tour of Mount Kumgang," he said in a statement released early Saturday by the North`s state-run Korean Central News Agency, referring to the resort by its Korean-language name.
The North has informed South Korea`s Hyundai Group that it "may terminate" the conglomerate`s monopoly right to conduct the tours and possibly turn them over to an unidentified "overseas businessman”, the spokesman said in the dispatch, which was dated Friday. There has been speculation in South Korea that the North could turn the franchise over to a business from China, its close ally.
The spokesman said South Korea has not allowed the tours to restart because the government considers the move part of international sanctions against North Korea meant to disrupt its supposed ability to earn foreign currency from them, rather than out of concern for tourists` safety.
"The Hyundai side`s loss of the exclusive right to conduct the tour of Mount Kumgang is entirely attributable to the South Korean authorities` moves to escalate the confrontation with fellow countrymen and scuttle the tourism," the spokesman said, claiming that the North has actually lost money on the venture.
Impoverished North Korea is subject to a variety of sanctions imposed by the United Nations as well as unilaterally by countries including the United States and Japan over its nuclear and missile development programs in a bid to disrupt funding for them.
The tours to Diamond Mountain, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) from the border with South Korea, began in 1998, and offer South Koreans and others a rare chance to visit the North. They were a symbol of detente between the two Koreas during the administrations of South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun. Both Presidents pursued a policy of engagement with Pyongyang in a bid to encourage the rival country to liberalise its economy and ease decades of military tensions.
Current South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in February 2008, angered the North by linking aid and engagement to progress in its denuclearisation.