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S. Korean workers return from N.K. mountain resort
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Published : Aug 23, 2011 - 19:39
Updated : Aug 23, 2011 - 19:39
Workers sent by South Korea to Mount Geumgang Resort in North Korea have returned to the South, Seoul said Tuesday, a day after Pyongyang demanded they leave its territory.

A total of 16 people, including two Chinese nationals, crossed the border back to South Korea around 11:30 a.m., leaving no more South Koreans at the resort, an unnamed official here said.

Banning the removal of South Korean assets from its resort, Pyongyang on Monday ordered South Koreans to leave its territory within 72 hours, insisting it had the right to legally dispose of the remaining property as Seoul failed to deal with the issue within the deadline.

The cross-border tours, 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 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.

“We are very disappointed by the situation,” Lee Hyung-kyun, an official at the South Korean tour operator Hyundai Asan said as he arrived back in South Korea Tuesday. “We look forward to the day when we will be able to return to Mount Geumgang with tours resumed.”

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles affairs with North Korea, has vowed diplomatic, legal measures to protect the property rights of its firms. Calling Pyongyang’s unilateral decision “unacceptable,” ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung also warned of grave consequences.

The two Koreas, who are technically still at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a permanent peace treaty, have held several rounds of talks over how to deal with the remaining assets but failed to reach an agreement.

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