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Seoul mulling non-cash payments to N. Korea for tour programs: official

All Headlines 15:39 November 26, 2009

By Tony Chang

SEOUL, Nov. 26 (Yonhap) -- Seoul is considering handing out non-cash payments to North Korea for allowing tour programs in the country, seeking to raise transactional transparency in light of U.N. sanctions imposed on the North for its nuclear tests, senior officials here said Thursday.

North Korea, currently under U.N. financial sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests in spring, has been nudging the South to reopen cross-border tours to its Mount Kumgang resort.

Seoul suspended the program, a major source of dollars for the cash-strapped country, after a tourist was shot and killed in July last year after wandering into a restricted military zone. The government has not yet announced a decision on whether it will resume the program.

A ranking government official, when asked about concerns over Seoul handing out hard cash in exchange for allowing the tour program, said on the condition anonymity that "the matter is relevant to the U.N. Security Council resolution 1874."

The resolution, adopted after North Korea's missile and nuclear tests this spring, is aimed at preventing Pyongyang from obtaining cash for the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Another senior official said that there was a need to "raise transparency in the current cash-payment method as Resolution 1874 is geared towards cutting cash supply channels."

The Mount Kumgang tours have earned the North US$487 million in tour fees since they began in 1998. More than 1.9 million South Koreans have visited the picturesque mountain on North Korea's southeast coast.

Seoul does not consider that the tour program to the North an infringement upon resolution 1874, Chun Hae-sung, spokesman for the Unification Ministry, said.

"The issue of changing the method of payment could be discussed when the two sides decide to hold talks on resuming the tour program," Chun said at a press briefing.


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