By Kang Hyun-kyung
North Korea threatened to seize five South Korean state assets at the Mt. Geumgang resort, Friday, and freeze private property in addition to expelling all employees there back to the South, beginning next Tuesday.
If the North carries out its threat, the inter-Korean tourism project faces the risk of closing, 12 years after it began in 1998.
The Ministry of Unification said the measure was ``inappropriate and unacceptable,’’ making it clear that it will stand firm and react appropriately. ``What the North has taken not only violates inter-Korean accords, but also international norms. Accordingly, we will not accept it,’’ said the ministry in a statement.
North Korea watchers said that only political moves at the highest level, such as an inter-Korea summit, could help reactivate the tourism deal.
Regarding a summit, President Lee Myung-bak noted that he was not worried about not meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during his presidential term.
``I sent a clear message to the North that I would not sit down with the North Korean leader if the talks were politically motivated,’’ he said.
Lee made the remarks during a meeting with two former Presidents ㅡ Kim Young-sam and Chun Doo-whan.
The North Korean military inspected properties owned by South Korean businesses ― that had not been frozen in earlier measures ― for two days.
It has already taken over a 12-story building for reunions of separated families from South and North Korea, built and sponsored by Seoul; a duty-free shop; a facility with a hot spa; and three other buildings owned by the Korea Tourism Organization.
The remaining facilities are owned by private businesses, including Hyundai Asan, the operator of the tourism project.
In a statement broadcast from the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang said the suspension of tourism had dealt a blow to its economy.
“(Having said that), we decided to take countermeasures to compensate for the loss and came up with the plan to seize five properties and freeze the remaining facilities,” it said.
The reclusive state said it would either take over the real estate or give it to other tourist agencies to operate.
Pyongyang threatened to take even tougher measures should Seoul issue a statement or react critically.
North Korea observers in Seoul said the announcement is the toughest measure the North could take with regard to the tourism project.
They said Friday’s announcement meant that the Mt. Geumgang tourism project cannot be resumed through working-level talks, adding the only option available would be to hold a summit.
Professor Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University said in an interview that North Korea threatening to freeze properties owned by private businesses indicated that it wanted to pressure the South into resuming the tourism project, not close it down.
北, 남측 5개 동결자산 몰수
북한이 23일 금강산관광지역내에 있는 정부와 관광공사 소유 5개 부동산을 몰수 하고 나머지 민간 부동산까지 동결할 것이라고 밝혔다.
이로 인해 1998년부터 12년 가까이 이어져 온 금강산관광 대북 사업이 절체절명의 위기를 맞게 되었다.
이와 관련해 북한 전문가들은 금강산 관광 재개를 위해 정책당국 간에 실무적으로 대화하는 단계는 지났으며 이제 정상회담으로 푸는 것 외에는 방법이 없다고 보고 있다.
한편, 김용현 동국대 교수는 인터뷰에서 민간 자산 몰수로 위협하는 북한은 남한 측에 관광을 재개하기 위해 압박을 가하고 있는 것이며, 이 관광을 폐쇄하려는 것은 아니라고 말했다.