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North Korea snubs Seoul with new tours from China

North Korea hosted the first shipload of passengers from China yesterday at a resort it once shared with South Korea. North Korea hosted the first shipload of passengers from China yesterday at a resort it once shared with South Korea. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
By Alexa Olesen
Associated Press / September 1, 2011

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MOUNT KUMGANG, North Korea - A rusty cargo ship festooned with welcome banners arrived yesterday at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort to mark the launch of new tours from China that snub Seoul and aim to replace suspended South Korean trips.

For a decade, the two Koreas jointly operated a golf resort ringed by Mount Kumgang’s seaside vistas and jagged peaks just north of their border, but Seoul halted the reconciliation project in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist.

With relations at a low point, the two sides have been unable to agree on terms for restarting the project. Instead, the cash-strapped North has turned to China, seizing South Korea’s assets at the site known familiarly abroad as Diamond Mountain and evicting its workers over Seoul’s objections.

Now, North Korea is opening the site to other investors and welcoming tourists of all nationalities. They will meet in the Chinese city of Yanji, drive three hours by road to the North Korean port city of Rason, and then go by ship down the east coast to Kumgang.

“We have opened the door, and it’s open to the whole world,’’ said Park Chol Su, vice chairman of the Taepung International Investment Group, a North Korean government agency set up to attract foreign investment.

He said large-scale infrastructure projects were a priority and that talks were under way with a few potential investors, though he would not give specifics.

Seoul officials say they will try to get foreign governments to boycott the plans, and it remains unclear how many non-Korean tourists will make their way to a resort that primarily drew nostalgic South Koreans.

The cruise would ferry tourists from Rason, a special, separately administered economic zone in North Korea’s far northeast a few hours’ drive from the Chinese city of Yanji, to Mount Kumgang near the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Koreas.

The maiden voyage - a trial run - arrived yesterday, carrying dozens of Chinese travel agents, international media, and North Korean officials.

The Mangyongbong, a refurbished Japanese-built cargo ship with rusty portholes and musty cabins, was used for the 21-hour overnight cruise tracing the length of North Korea’s east coast.

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