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N Korea woos foreign tourists

North Korea is attempting once more to lure foreign tourists to help celebrate a major anniversary, pledging to make “every possible sincere efforts” to show visitors a good time.

By Agence France-Presse

Thursday 5 April 2012, 02:59PM

Preparations are under way at the scenic Mount Kumgang to arrange transport and lodging for foreigners who have apparently shown
“keen interest” in visiting the communist nation.

There are no official figures on how many foreign tourists visit North Korea each year, but their cash is a major boon to the moribund economy.
A resort area at Mount Kumgang was developed by the South Korean giant Hyundai Asan and opened in 1998. It once earned the impoverished North tens of millions of dollars a year from South Koreans eager to see the other half of the Korean peninsula.

But in July 2008 a South Korean housewife on vacation was shot dead by a North Korean soldier after allegedly straying from the area, and South Korea banned all tours by its citizens to the North.

The development, which has since been deserted, “is fully open to all tourists in the blooming best tour season of April”, a spokesman for the tourism authority in the Mount Kumgang area told state media organisation KCNA.

The spokesman pledged “all kinds of special privileges” to tour firms willing to go there, stressing the North was in celebratory mood for the centenary of the birth of its founding president, Kim Il-Sung, on April 15.

“We welcome all the tourists coming to Mount Kumgang and will make every possible sincere efforts to let them spend pleasant days in the best scenic spot,” said the spokesman.

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The resort in the coastal Mount Kumgang was developed with South Korean money as a symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas, who are still technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended only in an armistice.

But the 2008 shooting there and a general deterioration in ties has seen the North and South fail to find a compromise on tour groups from South Korea returning.

Frustrated with the long stalemate and desperate for foreign cash, Pyongyang last year stripped Hyundai Asan of its exclusive right to run tours to the idyllic area, which boasts breathtaking views, lush vegetation and waterfalls.

Foreign tourists face heavy restrictions on visits to North Korea, which can ordinarily be made only as part of a closely watched tour group. Most areas of the country are off-limits and visitors are forbidden to talk to North Koreans.

Pyongyang on Sunday renewed criticism of what it called South Korea’s “grave provocation” over Mount Kumgang. Seoul has been lobbying for a blanket ban on all foreign tourists going there.

The North plans lavish commemorations for the anniversary, with various festivals and events including the launch of a satellite – which has drawn widespread condemnation from the international community.

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