(ATTN: ADDS photos released by ministry, more info in 8th para)
By Koh Byung-joon and Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Oct. 29 (Yonhap) -- North Korea rejected South Korea's offer for working-level talks about the fate of a long-suspended joint tour program to Mount Kumgang in the communist nation, insisting on discussing the matter in writing, the unification ministry said Tuesday.
South Korea made the dialogue offer on Monday in a counterproposal to North Korea's demand that Seoul remove all of its long-abandoned facilities from the mountain resort in an apparent threat to end the joint business.
"The North said that it is not necessary to hold separate working-level talks we proposed earlier and insisted on reaching an agreement (on the removal issue) through the exchange of documents," the ministry said in a text message sent to reporters.
"The government will draw up countermeasures on the Mount Kumgang matter in close consultation with relevant business operators with a principle that any inter-Korean issues should be resolved through dialogue and consultations," it added.
The North sent notices detailing its stance earlier in the day to the ministry and Hyundai Asan Corp., which operated the tour program to the mountain until the project was suspended in 2008 after a female tourist was shot to death by a North Korean guard.
A ministry official said that the government will consider every possible measure, including sending a notice again to North Korea to propose holding working-level talks.
North Korea's state media reported last week that Kim toured the Mount Kumgang resort and criticized dependence on South Korea in operating the tour program there. He gave instructions for the destruction of all "unpleasant-looking" facilities built by the South.
According to photos released by the ministry earlier in the day, the facilities had moldy walls and rusty structures, backing Kim's description of the buildings as "shabby," with a lack of proper care.
The North made an official offer to discuss its leader's decision in writing on Friday, asking the South to come and destroy its facilities at the mountain "on an agreed-upon date." It said that details can be discussed through the exchange of documents.
Launched in 1998, the tour program was regarded as a major inter-Korean cooperative project.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim agreed in September last year to resume the tour program and the Kaesong industrial park as soon as conditions are met. In his New Year's speech, Kim said that he is ready to restart the tours without any preconditions.
Earlier, a ministry official told reporters that the Seoul government is willing to discuss ways to guarantee the safety of tourists to North Korea's Mount Kumgang if Pyongyang agrees to hold talks about the mountain tour program.
It is part of "creative solutions" that the government is considering proposing to North Korea in a bid to prevent the total closure of the joint tour program to the mountain, he said.
The North's demand for removal of South Korean facilities was seen as an expression of its frustration with the long-suspended tour project amid international sanctions on Pyongyang. Allowing individual visits to the mountain is considered a way to restart tours without violating sanctions.
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