North Korea opens Kaesong to South Korean tourists


A convoy of 10 South Korean buses drove into North Korea Wednesday across the heavily armed border to visit the city of Kaesong, launching a second tourism project between the two Koreas, said the South Korean company that developed the tour.

The one-day overland tour of Kaesong, a 90-minute drive from Seoul, offers ordinary South Koreans an unusual glimpse of North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated nations, said officials at Hyundai Asan, the company that offers the tour.

It is the second tourism project between the two Koreas by Hyundai Asan, a unit of the South Korean Hyundai conglomerate in charge of most business projects involving the North. Nine years ago it began a tour program to the North’s east coast mountain of Geumgang.

So far, the mountain resort has attracted some 1.5 million tourists, mostly South Koreans. North Korea receives US$50 for every $300 trip to the mountains.

Price of the one-day tour of Kaesong is 180,000 won ($195) per tourist with North Korea keeping $100 for each person, Hyundai Asan said.

Among the first batch of 360 tourists to Kaesong were 87-year-old Kim Yoon-kyung and four-year-old Shim Joo-eun, the South Korean company said.

They left Seoul at around 6:00 a.m. and are scheduled to return around 5:00 p.m., an official at Hyundai Asan said.

The tour of Kaesong offers visits to historical Buddhist temples, scenic waterfalls and other legacies of the city, which was the capital of the Koryo Dynasty that ruled the peninsula between A.D. 918 and 1392, the company said.

Kaesong is also the site of an inter-Korean industrial complex with some 26 South Korean companies manufacturing clothes and kitchenware there.

For years South Korea has been engaging in economic cooperation with North Korea as part of its effort to bridge the economic gap with its impoverished neighbor and prepare for reunification. South Korea’s economy is 35 times bigger than the North’s.

The effort is gaining momentum as North Korea has started disabling its nuclear weapons program and its relationship with the U.S. is improving.

Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator in international talks aimed at persuading North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program, is on a three-day visit to the North’s nuclear complex in Yongbyon, which produces weapons-grade plutonium, to check the progress of the disablement of the North’s nuclear facilities.

At the same time, the deputy prime ministers of the two Koreas are in a three-day meeting in Seoul to discuss a wide range of economic cooperation projects that South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed to during their summit in October.


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