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N. Korean leader inspects spa resort, voices great satisfaction

NK leader inspects spa resort, signals intention for independent tourism development North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited a spa resort under construction, touting it as much better than the South Korean-built resort at Mount Kumgang, state media reported Friday, in an indication of his intention to develop the tourism industry without outside help.


The "field guidance" trip to the Yangdok County Hot Spring Resort in central North Korea came just days after Kim visited Mount Kumgang and ordered the removal of the long-abandoned resort facilities while criticizing his father's decision to open the area to South Korean developers.

"He expressed his great satisfaction over the fact that the resort is being successfully completed though it is just over 50 days since he inspected the construction site in late August," the Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as saying in English.

"He said he feels refreshing and reviving after touring the resort, adding it is a striking contrast to the Mt. Kumgang tourist area, an overall and intuitive illustration of the fundamental difference between the architecture of capitalist businesses targeting profit-making from roughly built buildings," it added.

On Wednesday, state media reported Kim ordered the removal of all the South Korea-constructed "unpleasant-looking" buildings through an "agreement with the relevant unit of the south side," stressing the North should not rely on the South for a now-suspended joint tour program to the scenic mountain.

Launched in 1998, the tour program to Mount Kumgang was regarded as a major inter-Korean cooperative project. It was suspended, however, in 2008 after a female tourist was shot to death by a North Korean guard.

In September last year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim agreed to resume the Mount Kumgang tour program as soon as conditions are met. But little progress has been made in the face of sanctions banning economic projects involving North Korea.

Experts see Kim's order to remove South Korea-built facilities at the mountain with harsh words as illustration of his frustration with the inter-Korean project gathering dust for more than a decade.

The trip to Mount Kumgang came about a week after Kim visited a special tourist zone under construction in Samjiyon County at the foot of Mount Paekdu, considered the birthplace of his late father, and lashed out at the United States for sanctions and pressure against the communist nation.

North Korea has ramped up calls for building a self-reliant economy amid bleak prospects for sanctions relief due to the stalled denuclearization talks with Washington.

Kim's recent tours of major resort areas appear to emphasize his strong will to develop the country's tourism industry in an apparent bid to lure foreign investment and travelers, and earn hard currency in the face of sanctions crippling its anemic economy.

Kim was accompanied on his trip to the spa resort by party officials and close aides, including his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong; spy chief Jang Kum-chol; and director of a bureau of the State Affairs Commission Ma Won-chun, who followed Kim on his recent field guidance travels to major tourist areas.

His wife, Ri Sol-ju, was also seen among them in photos released by state media, though her name was not mentioned in the report. It marked her second public appearance this week after the one at Mount Kumgang days earlier.

She had been out of public view for around four months since June, raising speculation over what was behind her usually prolonged absence from state media.(Yonhap)