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S. Korea asks China to ban Mount Kumgang tours

All Headlines 21:25 May 18, 2010

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- Seoul has requested that Beijing exclude North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort from its list of group tour destinations allowed for its people while it seeks understanding on a dispute over the North's recent illegal freeze of South Korean assets there, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism here said Tuesday.

Late last month, the North froze most South Korean assets at the resort on the east coast, including five South Korean government-run facilities, citing Seoul's refusal to resume cross-border tours.

The tours, once a cash cow for the poverty-ridden communist country, were suspended in 2008, when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier guarding a restricted area. Seoul has demanded a full investigation into the case and safety guarantees for South Korean tourists. The demands have yet to be met.

On May 11, South Korean Culture Minister Yoo In-chon sent China's national travel agency a letter saying that the North's asset freeze is a violation of an inter-Korean contract, and asked China's help in making the North withdraw the unlawful step, the ministry said.

"The letter was designed to seek China's cooperation and prevent group tours by Chinese people to the resort, especially where South Korean assets have been seized," a ministry official said.

The Mount Kumgang tour -- hailed as a symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas -- began in late 1998, and nearly 2 million South Koreans visited the zone before the program was suspended.

South Koreans have invested an estimated US$374 million in developing the border resort, according to the government.

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