Mon, Nov 05, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Koreas reach deal on Paekdu tours

SUMMIT North Korea agreed to allow South Koreans to visit the mountain, which is revered by most Koreans as the birthplace of the region's first ancient kingdom

AFP , SEOUL

North Korea has agreed to allow South Koreans to tour a scenic mountain on its territory bordering China beginning next year in an expansion of tourism business between the two Koreas.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency reported late Saturday that organizers from both nations had agreed in Pyongyang to launch tours of Mount Paekdu that will begin next May.

The deal was a follow-up to the summit agreement between the two Korean leaders last month to set up the first direct flights between Seoul and Mount Paekdu to boost tourism in the region. But both sides had then failed to set a timeline.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS

A South Korean survey team will visit the scenic mountain to work out details, according to the South's Hyundai Group, which says it has won 50-year exclusive rights for business in Mount Paekdu from the North.

"My trip to the North was very productive," Hyundai Group chief Hyun Jung-eun told journalists Saturday after returning from her five-day trip to North Korea to sign the deal with Pyongyang.

Mount Paekdu, at 2,744m, is the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula. It has hot springs and other natural scenery.

The mountain is revered by most Koreans as the birthplace of Korea's first ancient kingdom, known as Gojoseon.

The North has frequently used the mountain's sacred image to help build up a personality cult for Kim's family.

In recent years, a growing number of South Koreans have been heading to the mountain by traveling through northeastern China. Industrial estimates put the number of South Koreans who take the roundabout tour at 100,000 every year.

China owns half the mountain, called Changbaishan in Chinese.

China has stepped up development of the area in an apparent bid to list it as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

BUSINESS TIES

Hyundai has maintained close business ties with Pyongyang since its 1998 launch of a cross-border tour of Mount Kumgang, which is on North Korea's east coast.

More than a million South Koreans have since visited the mountain.

Hyundai has since extended its business into tours and development in North Korea's border town of Kaesong, where a South Korea-funded industrial complex is continuing to expand.

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