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Seoul OKs Mount Kumgang-related biz projects

All Headlines 09:28 May 08, 2013

SEOUL, May 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has approved 14 business projects related to a scenic mountain resort in North Korea, according to a government Web site Wednesday, raising speculation Seoul may be moving to lift restrictions on the resort that has been put on ice for nearly five years.

The Ministry of Unification's Web site showed approval was given on Feb. 15 to businesses that applied to engage in various business operations at the scenic mountain resort on the communist country's east coast.

This marks the first time since September 2010 that the ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs has given prior consent to possible business projects at the resort that heralded the first major inter-Korean cooperative venture.

All tourism operations at Mount Kumgang that first began in late 1998 were suspended after a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean female tourist on July 11, 2008. Seoul has demanded that the North provide government-level assurances that such an incident will not occur in the future in order for tours to resume, but it received no official reply.

The timing of the approval just before President Park Geun-hye took office on Feb. 25 has been seen by some as a sign the government is trying to push forward with the "trust building" process outlined by the South Korean leader. There have been calls that Seoul should lift sanctions imposed in the past to persuade the North to come to the negotiating table.

Despite such speculations, the unification ministry said the recent decision to OK the projects reflected a move to help businesses hurt by the prolonged suspension of the tours.

"By approving the projects, Seoul effectively gave the small-sized businesses the right to apply for support from the government," an official source said.

He pointed out that all 14 companies were subcontractors for Hyundai Asan Corp. that first developed the resort.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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