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N.K. bans Seoul assets from being removed from resort
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Published : Aug 22, 2011 - 19:34
Updated : Aug 22, 2011 - 19:34
South Korea vows legal, diplomatic action to secure property rights


North Korea on Monday banned the removal of South Korean assets from a mountain resort on its east coast, claiming Seoul has given up its rights to its property by not answering how to deal with it.

It also ordered all South Korean workers at the troubled resort to leave within 72 hours.

North Korea “will dispose of all properties including South Korean real estate, equipment and vehicles, with a belief that the South has given up the protection of property and interests of enterprises,” Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

No South Korean assets can be taken out of the North as of Aug. 21 midnight and all South Korean workers related to the mountain tours must leave its territory within 72 hours, it said. A total of 14 South Koreans are currently residing at the mountain resort, the Seoul government said.

The cross-border tours to North Korea’s Mount Geumgang, which had been one of Pyongyang’s main sources of hard currency, came to a halt on July 11, 2008 after a South Korean female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier when she purportedly strayed into an off-limits military zone. The tours were first opened to South Koreans in 1998.

Some 300 billion won ($280 million) worth of facilities invested in by dozens of South Korean companies ― restaurants, a fire station, a cultural center, a hot spring, hotels and a golf range ― have been out of use for three years.

Seizing the assets in April last year, Pyongyang has been threatening to take legal steps to dispose of them and unilaterally terminated the South Korean operator’s exclusive tourism rights. Reports have said Pyongyang has been discussing launching joint tours with travel agencies in China and the U.S.

Expressing regret over North Korea’s announcement, South Korea vowed all legal, diplomatic measures to secure property rights of its firms.

“With the priority on the safety of our people up there, we will take any necessary measures,” said Chun Hae-sung, spokesman of South Korea’s Unification Ministry which handles affairs with the North.

“We cannot accept the North’s unilateral move. We make it clear that the North is accountable for all its consequences,” he said.

Four officials from Seoul’s tour operator Hyundai Asan visited the resort on Friday to try to resolve the longstanding dispute over how to deal with the remaining assets. The meeting had apparently fallen through as two previous rounds of talks that were held in June.

Accusing South Korea of showing no intention to resume the tours, Pyongyang said its southern rival was “entirely to blame” for the situation.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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