Wed, Aug 06, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Pyongyang accuses S Korea of murder; ends tours of North

REUTERS , SEOUL

North Korea called a temporary halt to tours from South Korea after the suicide of a leading figure in inter-Korean ties, as the South's government faced pressure to review business dealings with its communist neighbor.

North Korean organizations said they would temporarily halt ferry tours from the South to its Mount Kumgang resort to honor the memory of Hyundai Asan chairman Chung Mong-hun, who jumped to his death from his high-rise office building in Seoul on Monday.

Hyundai's tours to Mount Kumgang pumped millions of dollars into the North and gave South Koreans a rare chance to visit the northern side of a border closed since the Korean War.

Chung, 54, fifth son of the late founder of South Korea's legendary Hyundai Group, had been facing trial on charges linked to the secret transfer of US$500 million to Pyongyang by South Korea before a historic June 2000 summit between the South's then-President Kim Dae-jung and the North's leader, Kim Jong-il.

North Korea's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, which dealt with Hyundai, said Chung's death "compels us to suspend the tour of Mt. Kumgang for a certain period including the mourning period with profound grief", the North's official KCNA news agency said.

The Peace Committee added a sharp dig at South Korea's opposition party, saying the conservative group's scandal investigation amounted to "political murder" of Chung.

"His death, in fact, cannot be regarded as a suicide. It was murder committed by the sword called `special inspection' illegally engineered by the Grand National Party," it said.

The "cash-for-summit" scandal and a crisis over North Korea's drive to build nuclear weapons that has hurt Seoul's economy have soured South Korean public opinion on the North. Pyongyang has denounced the scandal probe but never denied receiving the cash.

Most dailies in Seoul said projects in North Korea should continue, but with more transparency and accountability.

Hyundai Asan and its precursor had lost hundreds of millions of dollars during the nearly five-year-old ferry tour, forcing South Korea's state tourism organization to bail out the project.

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