North Korea on Wednesday demanded that the South present its plans to dispose of the Seoul-owned assets at the Mount Geumgang resort by July 29, according to a government official.
The North also said that should the South make no response by then, it would unilaterally dispose of the assets held by South Koreans.
The demand came as a 10-member delegation of Seoul government officials and investors engaged in a heated discussion with North Korean officials for about an hour from 11:45 a.m. at the scenic resort on the east coast of the communist state.
“The North Korean side reaffirmed its stance over the disposal of South Korean assets and called on us to present our own plans by July 29,” the official said, declining to be named.
During the talks, the North Korean side is said to have repeated its earlier position that should the South not offer to the North its measures to dispose of the assets immediately, it would believe that the South would give up their property rights to the assets.
The South also reiterated its stance that any action to dispose of them would be in violation of the international law and contracts with South Korean authorities and investors.
Later in the afternoon, the two sides held another session over the issue.
The two Koreas had launched the joint tour project at the North’s Mount Geumgang in 1998 as a symbol of reconciliation.
The tours, which had been one of impoverished Pyongyang’s main sources of income, came to a halt on July 11, 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier when she purportedly strayed into an off-limits military zone.
Some 300 billion won ($280 million) worth of facilities owned by dozens of South Korean companies ― restaurants, a fire station, a cultural center, a hot spring, hotels and a golf range ― have been out of use for three years.
Seizing the assets last April, Pyongyang recently announced it would take legal steps to dispose of them unless Seoul investors decide how to handle them assets by July 13.
The previous meeting last June had ended without proper discussion as the North refused to talk with the South Korean government officials present.
Pressed for outside aid and foreign currency, North Korea may be bringing up the issue of Seoul’s assets to either resume the tours unconditionally or to start business with other countries, analysts say.
While Pyongyang claims to have done enough on its side to deal with the 2008 shooting, Seoul demands that it investigate the case properly and sets up reliable prevention measures.
This April the North unilaterally terminated the exclusive tourism rights of Seoul’s Hyundai Asan and has reportedly begun tour programs with Chinese travel agencies.
Relations between the two Koreas are one of their worst-ever states since the communist North conducted two deadly attacks at a Seoul warship and a border island in March and November last year, respectively.
As Pyongyang continues to deny responsibility for the two attacks, the Seoul government has suspended financial aid and dialogue for months.
By Shin Hae-in, Song Sang-ho