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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
LONDON – North Korea might allow South Korean tourists to visit Mt. Kumgang by boat, a DPRK focused tourist agency has said.
The China-based tour agency Young Pioneer Tours announced on their website that a last-minute cruise itinerary taking in sights around Mt. Kumgang could soon be accessible for South Korean tourists.
“While formal approval has not yet been given, we expect to be able to take South Korean citizens on this tour,” a statement published on the Young Pioneer Tours website said.
The four night cruise is scheduled to take place from June 28 aboard the Singapore registered MV Royale Star. It includes four nights at sea, with visits to the Mt. Kumgang tourist facilities taking place during the day.
Neither North or South Korean authorities have officially commented on the announcement yet.
If the tour is approved, it would mark the first time since 2008 that South Korean nationals could theoretically visit the Mt. Kumgang region, an area of immense cultural heritage to Koreans both north and south.
Using a Singapore flagged vessel, an itinerary that includes no overnight stays in North Korean hotels, and focusing exclusively on a region previously accessible for South Koreans, North Korean tourist authorities may be hoping that laws normally preventing South Korean tourist visits won’t apply.
South Korea’s National Security Law (NSL) normally makes it illegal for ROK citizens to visit North Korea, because the legislation prohibits ‘unauthorized contact’ with North Koreans. Correspondingly, long standing North Korean laws bar South Koreans from visiting the DPRK on tours.
Despite existing legislation, South Korean access to the Mt. Kumgang region was previously acceptable for the two sides – and encouraged.
Over a million South Korean tourists visited the Kumgang region since it opened – during a period of inter-Korean détente – in 1998. Hyundai Asan, the South Korean company that helped develop the region for tourists, invested over $1.5 billion at Kumgang for a hotel, hot springs, a shopping mall, a road, and other facilities.
Trips to Kumgang were abruptly halted there in 2008 when a South Korean tourist was fatally shot by North Korean military personnel. North Korean authorities controversially took over the Hyundai-Asan built development in 2011 when it became apparent that South Korea would not reverse its ban on tourism there.
North Korea views the Kumgang tourist zone as an ideal form of cooperation with South Korea due to the low-risk, high earning revenue stream it offers. Until 2008 it was a major source of cash for the North Koreans, bringing in half a billion dollars over a decade.
The south-easterly location of Kumgang means that visitors from the Republic of Korea are the most logical and natural source. Previous North Korean attempts to compensate for the lack of visitors to Kumgang with foreign tourists have been largely ineffective for this reason, tourist experts say.
Last week Pyongyang was scheduled to talk with South Korea on re-opening the facility, but talks fell apart after the two sides could not agree on the ranking of the negotiators to meet.
Picture: KCTV / Video: KCTV