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Say goodbye to Kumgang: KCNA

Commentary dashes hopes raised by earlier Choson Sinbo report
Nov 16,2019
North Korea says there’s no room for South Korean participation in the Mount Kumgang tourism zone and warned that it will demolish the South’s facilities there if Seoul doesn’t start cooperating.

In a Friday commentary by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang slammed South Korea for calls for dialogue it called “pitiful and shameful.”

“The south Korean authorities left the facilities for the tour of [Mount] Kumgang untouched for over a decade in fear of the U.S.,” the English-language commentary read. “Only after they are pressed with the withdrawal of those facilities, they are dismayed, begging us to let them stay even at a corner of the mountain and take part in the resumption of the tour.”

Claiming a timetable is in place for development of the area, KCNA said an ultimatum was delivered to the South on Monday that made clear Pyongyang would not accept Seoul’s “useless assertions” — it has asked for talks and for an inspection team to travel to the site — and that it would go forward in “unilaterally pulling down the facilities” if the South failed to present a plan for its withdrawal.

South Korea is “steeped in the sense of flunkeyism to the marrow of their bones,” the commentary said. “Even at this crucial moment when the fate of their facilities is like a light before the wind” it has entreated the United States to consider the Mount Kumgang issue in its denuclearization negotiations with North Korea, it continued.

“But their master only remained cold,” KCNA concluded.

Seoul’s Ministry of Unification Friday said it was considering the situation regarding its investments on Mount Kumgang “seriously,” with its deputy spokesman Kim Eun-han confirming that the ministry had received a notice from Pyongyang on Monday demanding any discussions about the removal operation take place in written form.

“The government maintains its position that the Mount Kumgang tourism issue must be resolved through mutual agreement between the South and North,” Kim said. “We urge North Korea to respond supportively to our position.”

Following North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s bombshell instruction last month calling for the removal of “unpleasant-looking” South Korean-built facilities on Mount Kumgang, an alarmed Seoul requested an in-person meeting between working-level officials.
This was immediately rejected by Pyongyang, which insists all discussions on dismantlement take place through exchanges of documents.

On Nov. 5, South Korea tried to dispatch a team of officials and tourism operators to check its infrastructure on Mount Kumgang, but spokesman Kim Eun-han confirmed Friday that this too was rebuffed by the North.

The KCNA commentary follows what the North claims was an ultimatum sent on Monday, which itself was a response to Seoul’s third attempt to seek discussions on the issue dispatched in a message on Nov. 7.

The Mount Kumgang tourism area, located on the North’s eastern coast adjacent to the heavily fortified demilitarized zone, was one of two major economic cooperation projects between the two Koreas.

For 10 years after 1998, nearly a million South Korean tourists visited the approximately 200-square-mile resort on Mount Kumgang through tours operated by the South Korean company Hyundai Asan.

Yet the still-unexplained killing of a South Korean female tourist by a North Korean soldier in 2008 prompted Seoul to suspend the tours indefinitely, leaving idle the country’s nearly-trillion-won investment in infrastructure in the area.

Last year’s rapprochement between the two Koreas raised the possibility of the project — along with the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the other major enterprise — being revived, and their leaders signed a commitment to normalize the project “as soon as conditions allow” during their third summit in Pyongyang in September 2018. Yet Washington’s refusal to grant exceptions to international sanctions on the North upended that possibility, prompting North Korea to accuse Seoul of toadying up to the United States.

Another North Korean propaganda outlet, the Choson Sinbo, released a report last week that appeared to claim Seoul still had a role to play on Mount Kumgang, boosting the South Korean government’s hopes to salvage its facilities.

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul is scheduled to depart for a weeklong trip on Sunday to the United States, where he is expected to meet officials to seek some form of reprieve for Seoul in regard to Mount Kumgang.

Kim’s chances of success, however, appear to have been dashed with the KCNA commentary, which stressed that Mount Kumgang was “never an issue to be interfered in by the south Korean authorities and they have already disqualified from doing so.”

As Mount Kumgang is “clearly neither the common property of the north and the south nor the place symbolic of north-south reconciliation and cooperation” — a declaration directly at odds with the country’s past pronouncements — North Korea will develop the resort in its “own way as its owner for the sake of the nation and posterity,” the editorial said.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]