Kim Jong-un vows to clear ‘shabby’ South Korean buildings from tourist resort

Leader says structures at Mount Kumgang on North Korean coast ‘have no national character’

A photograph from North Korea’s official news agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) inspecting the Mount Kumgang tourist area. Photograph: STR/KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

A photograph from North Korea’s official news agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) inspecting the Mount Kumgang tourist area. Photograph: STR/KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said South Korea’s “backward” and “shabby” facilities at the North’s Mount Kumgang tourist resort must be removed and rebuilt in a modern way, state media reported on Wednesday.

Mount Kumgang was one of two major inter-Korean economic projects, along with the Kaesong industrial zone, and an important token of co-operation between the two Koreas during decades of hostilities following the 1950-53 Korean War.

But Mr Kim, while inspecting the tourist spot on North Korea’s east coast, issued rare criticism for the “very wrong, dependent policy of the predecessors” who relied on the South to develop “our land won at the cost of blood”.

“The buildings are just a hotchpotch with no national character at all,” Kim said, according to the official KCNA news agency, in the latest sign of cooling relations between the neighbours. He then likened them to “makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area or isolation wards”.

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (shows the Mount Kumgang tourist area, recently inspected by Kim Jong-un. Photograph: EPA/KCNA
A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (shows the Mount Kumgang tourist area, recently inspected by Kim Jong-un. Photograph: EPA/KCNA

“They are not only very backward in terms of architecture but look so shabby as they are not taken proper care of,” Mr Kim said.

He called for the “unpleasant-looking facilities” to be removed through consultations with the South, and rebuilt to “meet our own sentiment and aesthetic taste” alongside other tourist zones, including the Wonsan-Kalma coastal area and Masikryong ski resort.

It was a “mistaken idea” that tours to Mount Kumgang would not be possible without the South’s help, Kim said.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, said it was examining the North’s intentions.

“If there’s any request from the North, we’re always willing to hold discussions on the aspects of protecting our citizens’ property rights, the spirit of inter-Korean agreements and the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang,” ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told a briefing on Wednesday.

The tours to Mount Kumgang began in 1998 with the investment of South Korean firms such as Hyundai Asan Corp and Ananti Inc, providing a rare source of cash for Pyongyang worth millions of dollars a year.

The programme was suspended in 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist who had wandered unknowingly into a military area.

Mr Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-in agreed at a summit last year to restart the joint economic initiatives “as soon as the environment is created”.

But inter-Korean relations have grown frosty since then, amid lacklustre progress on denuclearisation talks between the North and the United States, in which the South offered to play a mediator role.

The North has stepped up criticism against the South in recent months for adopting high-tech weapons and continuing military drills with the United States. – Reuters