North demolish hotel that symbolized Korean engagement

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea is in the process of demolishing a South Korean hotel at a North Korean resort that was one of the last symbols of inter-Korean involvement, according to Seoul officials who called for the “unilateral” destruction.

South Korea has built dozens of facilities at the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea to accommodate the tourism of its citizens during a high period of engagement between the rivals in the 1990s. But North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2019 called South Korean facilities there “shabby” and ordered them to be destroyed after months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy US-led sanctions that prevented the tours from operating. be resumed.

The North has postponed demolition work in 2020 as part of strict measures to prevent COVID-19.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said on Friday that North Korea is continuing to demolish the Haegumgang Hotel. Docked in a coastal area of ​​the resort, the floating hotel was a major property of dozens of facilities South Korea established to accommodate Diamond Mountain tours, which began in 1998.

A spokesman for the Unification Ministry, Cha Deok-cheol, said it is not clear whether the north is also destroying other facilities at the site. He said Seoul deeply regrets North Korea’s unilateral dismantling of the hotel and urged the North to engage in talks to resolve disagreements over South Korean properties at the site.

Commercial satellite images indicate that demolition work has been underway for weeks. Cha said Seoul used inter-Korean communication channels to demand explanations and talks on the matter, but the North has ignored the request.

The demolition comes amid heightened tensions over recent missile launches. North Korea conducted its first intercontinental ballistic missile test since 2017 on March 24, when Kim revived to force the United States and other rivals to accept the north as a nuclear power and lift crippling sanctions.

South Korean trips to Diamond Mountain were an important symbol of cooperation between the Koreas and a valuable source of money for the north’s ailing economy, before the South suspended them in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist.

South Korea cannot resume mass tours to Diamond Mountain or any other major inter-Korean economic activity without defying sanctions, which have been tightened since 2016, when the north began to accelerate its nuclear and missile tests. While UN sanctions do not directly ban tourism, they prohibit the transfer of large amounts of cash that may result from such business activities.

During their brief diplomacy in 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in met Kim three times and vowed to restart Diamond Mountain tours, expressing optimism that sanctions could end. But North Korea suspended cooperation with the South after diplomacy with the US collapsed in 2019 and Seoul was unable to enforce concessions on Washington’s behalf.

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