North Korea has decided to postpone plans to demolish South Korean-owned facilities at the Mount Kumgang resort, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) said Friday, in a move reportedly aimed at preventing the further spread of the novel coronavirus.
Speaking to press at a regular briefing, ministry spokesperson Yoh Sang-key said the North had informed the South of its decision through a newly-opened telephone line between the two Koreas’ capitals late Thursday night.
The move sees Pyongyang effectively close off all potential entry points into the country, and follows news Thursday that the two Koreas had agreed to temporarily close a jointly-run liaison office at Kaesong until the threat from the coronavirus was “completely resolved.”
All of the 58 South Koreans working at the office subsequently crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) between the two Koreas into the South around 19:00 yesterday, the MOU said.
It also sees Pyongyang put on hold plans in place since October last year, when leader Kim Jong Un in a visit to the Mount Kumgang resort ordered the demolition of the “unpleasant-looking facilities of the South side” in consultation with counterparts in Seoul, promising to build a new international tourism zone in its place.
Following weeks of inter-Korean wrangling over plans for a South Korean delegation to visit the site to remove their assets at the resort — and Pyongyang’s refusal to hold face-to-face talks over the issue — the North sent the South an “ultimatum” on its plans.
“We sent an ultimatum on November 11 that we will take resolute measures to unilaterally demolish facilities on the assumption that the South Korean authorities will abandon the demolition of the facilities [to us] if they continue to persist with futile assertions,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
The North subsequently sent the South a follow-up letter in December, asking that all South Korean-own property at the facility be removed by February.
Pyongyang is yet to go ahead with the plans, however, with satellite imagery of the resort earlier this month suggesting that the facilities remain intact.
News Friday that the North had decided to put the plans on hold also comes amid a spate of other steps taken by Pyongyang to stem a potential outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which the country’s state media has described as a matter of “national survival.”
Pyongyang has in the wake of the rapidly-spreading coronavirus — now believed to have infected 8,200 people and declared a “global health emergency” by the World Health Organization (WHO) — set up an “emergency quarantine command” to deal with the threat.
Ruling party daily the Rodong Sinmun yesterday reported that workers of the newly-organized command in provinces, cities, and counties were working on “revolutionary countermeasures” against the virus, including setting up venues for quarantine and treatment.
The DPRK has also moved to ban all foreign tourists and instituted a one-month quarantine on all foreigners visiting from abroad, as well as severely restrict international travel into and out of the country.
Edited by James Fretwell