Foreigners use Kumgangsan Hotel
North Korea is allowing foreign groups to use some South Korea-developed facilities at the Mt. Geumgang resort, the site of a stalled cross-border project, but business remains sparse, a recent visitor there said Thursday.
The resort once brought droves of South Koreans to facilities developed under an exclusive deal between the North and South Korean firm Hyundai Asan. But amid persisting tension over the 2008 shooting death of a tourist, Pyongyang said it would legally dispose of the facilities and would establish a zone for international tours.
An international tourist who recently visited said groups are allowed to stay at the Kumgangsan Hotel and are also given access to a restaurant and hot springs facility. Gift shops and a duty-free shop were opened up after tourists inquired about them.
“Besides a few Chinese tourists at the hotel, the resort was quiet,” the tourist told The Korea Times, asking to remain anonymous. “They said they were expecting more people in the fall to see the foliage.”
Though Hyundai Asan did not build the hotel, it owns the right to operate it under the tourism contract.
The tourist added that while being allowed access to the indoor portion of the hot-springs facility, the outdoor portion appeared unused and suffering from a lack of upkeep.
The use of the facilities has been unclear since the North last year expelled the last remaining South Korean workers at the site. Since then, it opened a monthly cruise from the northeastern city of Rajin expected to bring Chinese tourists.
The moves are the latest hurdles to any resumption of the project, which was suspended after Park Wang-ja, a 53-year-old South Korean housewife was shot dead by a North Korean soldier on July 11, 2008 after she apparently crossed into a military area.
Seoul says such moves breach inter-Korean agreements and those between Pyongyang and Hyundai Asan. While it has proposed working-level talks to address the matter, the North has yet to respond.
Such use would “violate the contract and is not proper,” a spokesperson from the Unification Ministry said. “The North should abide by the contract. We cannot accept this behavior.”
The South wants a formal apology and security measures before tours resume, tackling concerns the North claims it has already addressed.
Yoo Ho-yeol, a North watcher at Korea University, said Seoul or Pyongyang will likely wait until the next South Korean administration takes office before budging.
“The next president will want to distinguish him or herself from the current government on big issues. As it is a major symbol or reconciliation, working to resume the project would be a good way to do that,” he said. “Pyongyang wants the cash it brings in.”
The sides launched the joint tour program in 1998 to foster reconciliation and cooperation. For the North, the project was a source of hard currency.