The government will selectively allow South Korean business professionals to visit North Korea for checks on their past investments there, an official said Wednesday, amid a prolonged suspension of trade with the communist state following its deadly attack on a Southern naval ship last year.
For business purposes, these individuals will also be allowed to meet their North Korean counterparts in a third nation outside the Korean Peninsula, the Unification Ministry official said, on the condition of anonymity. The ministry handles inter-Korean relations, which have seriously frayed following the torpedoing of the warship Cheonan in March last year.
Two months after the attack near the inter-Korean border in the Yellow Sea, Seoul suspended all trade and exchange programs with the North, accusing Pyongyang of the sinking that killed 46 South Korean sailors. The punitive measures, however, excluded an inter-Korean factory park project in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.
"Certain businesspeople are growing concerned about the state of their investments in the North because the trade suspension following the Cheonan sinking continues to be in place," the official said. "(The government) has decided to selectively allow them to visit Kaesong and the resort at Mount Geumgang for the purpose of checking on their invested assets. They will also be allowed to meet relevant North Koreans in a third nation."
The official noted, however, that visits to the two areas were already permitted under the existing trade ban. Officials from a South Korean firm operating a stone plant near Kaesong made a three-day trip to the area on Friday, the first visit to North Korea by South Korean businessmen since the suspension of trade.
The move comes as a group of South Korean officials and businessmen on Wednesday headed to scenic Mount Geumgang on North Korea's east coast to discuss the ownership of South Korean assets seized by the North. The Mount Geumgang tour project was jointly launched in 1998, but later suspended after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist near the resort in 2008.
Last year, the North seized or froze several South Korean assets at the resort in anger over the stalled project. (Yonhap News)