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S. Koreans to visit N. Korea as it freezes their assets

All Headlines 11:42 April 26, 2010

By Sam Kim

SEOUL, April 26 (Yonhap) -- Dozens of South Korean business officials plan to visit North Korea this week to comply with Pyongyang's demand that they be present when the communist state freezes their assets at a joint mountain resort on the east coast, officials said Monday.

North Korea announced last week that it would freeze South Korean tourism facilities at its Mount Kumgang resort between Tuesday and Friday this week, its latest in a series of acts pressuring Seoul to resume lucrative cross-border tours to the area.

The tours had earned the sanctions-hit North Korean regime millions of U.S. dollars before they were suspended over the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean guard in July 2008.

South Korea demands an on-site probe, bolstered security measures for tourists and state-to-state guarantees for safety. North Korea argues it has done its part in addressing the demands.

Chun Hae-sung, a spokesperson for the Unification Ministry in Seoul, said his government plans to allow the South Korean business executives to visit the North if they ask.

"It is our basic stance that we respect the decisions of the companies," he said.

About 35 officials from 30 companies plan to visit North Korea, said an official at Hyundai Asan, the chief operator of the now-suspended tours. He declined to be identified.

The announcement by North Korea raised fears that Pyongyang may be taking steps to confiscate more South Korean assets. The North already seized Seoul government-run facilities last week, 10 days after freezing them and expelling personnel.

South Korea has pledged retaliatory measures without being specific. It also warned North Korea will be to blame for any further deterioration of relations between the divided states.

The unravelling joint tourism project comes amid increasing suspicions that North Korea may be behind the March 26 sinking of a South Korean naval corvette that killed 46 sailors. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has pledged a stern response for whoever is responsible, while the North has denied involvement.

samkim@yna.co.kr
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