North Korea must first guarantee the safety of visitors if it wants South Korea to allow its citizens to travel across the border to the North's scenic Mount Kumgang, the unification ministry said Friday.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that individual visits to the North's mountain are not subject to UN sanctions and that it is up to the unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs as whether to approve them or not.
Her remarks came a day after North Korea's state media reported that leader Kim Jong-un ordered the removal of the long-abandoned resort facilities built by South Korea at the mountain and signaled that Pyongyang will push for its own tour program without outside help. But he noted that South Koreans would be welcome to visit there.
"It is necessary to guarantee safety (of individuals) through an agreement between authorities (between the two Koreas), along with a process to approve people's trips to North Korea," Kim Eun-han, the ministry's deputy spokesperson, told reporters during a regular press briefing.
A safety guarantee has been regarded as a prerequisite for the resumption of the tour program since it was suspended in 2008 after a female tourist was shot to death by a North Korean guard. North Korea has not made an official apology for the incident.
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. In his New Year's speech, Kim said that he is ready to resume the joint project without preconditions.
The two Koreas have hoped for the resumption of the tour program, but little progress has been made amid worries that the US-led sanctions imposed on North Korea could lose their teeth in pressuring Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program.
The ministry deputy spokesperson said that the stance to normalize the tour program remains unchanged and that the government will work hard to create an environment that will make it possible. (Yonhap)