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‘N. Korea hasn’t responded to Seoul’s individual tourism proposal’: Unification Ministry

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) inspects the Kumgangsan resort in this photo provided by the North’s Korean Central News Agency on Oct. 23. Kim ordered the removal of all South Korea-built facilities at the once jointly run tourist spot, according to the KCNA. (Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) inspects the Kumgangsan resort in this photo provided by the North’s Korean Central News Agency on Oct. 23. Kim ordered the removal of all South Korea-built facilities at the once jointly run tourist spot, according to the KCNA. (Yonhap)

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Friday that Seoul hasn’t heard back from Pyongyang on its proposal to allow South Koreans to travel to North Korea. 

“North Korea hasn’t given an official response, nor reacted to the individual tourism (proposal) yet,” said Cho Hey-sil, the ministry’s deputy spokesperson, during a regular press briefing. “As for individual tourism, we are evaluating the issue, considering various matters related to the novel coronavirus. I am not aware of (the North) raising the matter at this point, or given any response.”

Her comment is in response to an earlier media report that North Korea had told the South Korean government to “please wait,” suggesting the possibility that Pyongyang might be considering the offer but concerned about the coronavirus outbreak. 

The ministry said it is watching closely to see if North Korea reports any coronavirus cases. Pyongyang has not yet publicly acknowledged any confirmed cases.

Earlier in January, South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged to pursue more inter-Korean projects -- including permitting individual travel to North Korea by South Korean tourists -- and to seek ways to work around the international sanctions on Pyongyang and the deadlocked denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea. 

Since then, the Unification Ministry has drawn up possible scenarios for individual tourism to North Korea, saying the most realistic option would be to allow South Koreans to use a travel agency in a third country to arrange visits to North Korea. Moon’s key officials, including Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon, are talking to their US counterparts and seeking Washington’s support on the matter. 

But due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, containing it has become Seoul’s top priority, pushing the tourism issue aside for now. 

The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, had caused 681 deaths, mostly in China, and infected 31,481 people across the world as of Friday. Seoul has confirmed 24 cases so far.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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