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Safety guarantees prerequisite for individual tours to Kumgangsan: Unification Ministry

South Korea can allow individual trips to Kumgangsan in North Korea only if Pyongyang guarantees the safety of the visitors, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

Seoul is considering the possibility of allowing individual visits to the mountain resort, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the removal of South Korea-funded facilities from the resort late last month.

“Like non-Koreans traveling to North Korea, individual tours do not violate international sanctions against Pyongyang,” ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min said in a press briefing Monday.

Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min (Yonhap)
Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min (Yonhap)

“Generally, to approve South Koreans’ visits to the North, (the government) requires official documents such as invitations from Pyongyang that guarantee their safety.”

South Korean tours to the scenic mountain began in 1998 but came to a halt in 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot to death by a North Korean soldier.

It is the South Korean government’s position that tours to Kumgangsan can be resumed only after the Koreas discuss and resolve the issue of safety guarantees and protection, Lee said.

Another ministry official told reporters on Monday that he believes the development of the North’s Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist zone, a ski resort in Masikryong and a hot spring resort in Yangdok County was “not unrelated” to Kim’s order to remove South Korean facilities from Kumgangsan.

“It was the first time Kim gave ‘field guidance’ at Kumgangsan, and he was accompanied by First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui,” the official said.

Just two days after Kim visited Kumgangsan, the North’s state media showed him visiting a spa resort under construction in Yangdok County and calling it “a striking contrast” to Kumgangsan, where “capitalist businesses targeted profit-making from roughly built buildings.”

About the repeated delays in the completion of the Wonsan-Kalma tourist zone, from April last year to October this year and again to April next year, the official said the North appears to be having difficulty obtaining construction materials due to the sanctions.

By Kim So-hyun (