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S. Korea to call for boycott of tours to N. Korean mountain resort

South Korea will ask the United States, China and Japan to prevent their citizens from visiting a troubled mountain resort in North Korea, a Seoul official said Tuesday.

The move comes as the isolated communist country is seeking to attract foreign tourists to Mount Kumgang as part of its attempts to revitalize the stalled resort.

North Korea invited a group of foreign business executives and journalists to the resort earlier this week to explain its plans to develop the resort as a zone for international tours and business.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said that the North launched a new tour program taking international tourists from the northeastern port city of Rason to the scenic mountain via a sea route and the five-day program “is drawing deep interest of foreigners.”

After a launching ceremony, the cargo-passenger Mangyongbong left Rason for a port near the mountain, full of tourists, including reporters from China, Russia, France and the United States, the KCNA said.

South and North Korea launched the joint cross-border tour program in 1998 as a key symbol of fledging reconciliation on the divided Korean Peninsula.

Seoul paid millions of dollars to Pyongyang through the program that brought nearly 2 million South Koreans to the resort before the Seoul government halted tours in 2008 following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist near the resort.

Last week, the North expelled South Korean workers from the resort as it vowed to legally dispose of all South Korean assets there worth about $375 million.

South Korea has vowed to take legal and diplomatic steps to protect its property rights in the resort.

On Tuesday, a government official told reporters that Seoul will ask the U.S., China and Japan to prevent their nationals from visiting the resort. The official did not give a time frame for the diplomatic request and asked not to be identified, citing office policy.

He also predicted that no foreign companies would invest in the North’s resort, as there could be a legal dispute over Pyongyang’s unilateral move to dispose of South Korean assets. (Yonhap News)