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North, South Korea Set to Open Talks on Tourism - 2001-10-03


North and South Korean officials are set to open talks on reviving a stalled, money-losing, joint tourism project, a key part of reconciliation efforts between Seoul and Pyongyang. The discussions are only one part of a busy series of inter-Korean meetings scheduled for this month.

The meetings are taking place at North Korea's Mount Kumgang, the site of the landmark joint tourism project that began in 1998.

South Korea's financially-strapped Hyundai group has been operating tours to the area, losing millions of dollars, in addition to paying North Korea a monthly access fee.

In an effort to revive the project and attract more tourists, North and South Korean officials are discussing opening a direct land route to the resort. Currently the only way to reach the scenic resort is a 12-hour ferry ride.

The road would have to cross the heavily fortified border between the two nations, which remain technically at war. Their three-year conflict in the early 1950's ended in an uneasy armistice rather than a peace treaty.

The Mount Kumgang tourism project was the first major milestone in South Korea's efforts to engage North Korea. Those efforts culminated in June 2000 with the first-ever inter-Korea summit, at which both leaders pledged to work toward eventual reunification.

But reconciliation efforts stalled earlier this year amid political bickering between North Korea and South Korea's key ally, the United States.

This week's talks are the first in a series of meetings between the two Koreas. Later this month, the two sides are scheduled to hold brief reunions of families who have been separated for decades by the political divide on the Korean Peninsula.

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