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Korean Tourism Talks End, No Progress - 2001-10-05

Talks between North and South Korea aimed at restarting an important joint tourism project have ended Friday with no apparent progress. South Korea considers the project a key step toward ending half a century of bitter division on the Korean peninsula.

After three days of meetings in North Korea, officials from Pyongyang and Seoul failed to reach an agreement on a proposed direct land route from South Korea to the North's Mount Kumgang resort.

North Korea reportedly expressed concern about a road cutting across their common border, the most heavily defended place on earth. The two sides have agreed to meet again in two weeks.

South Korea's Hyundai group started operating the landmark tourism project in Mount Kumgang in 1998, paying Pyongyang millions of dollars in fees. But the project had been a financial loss because of declining visitors.

South Korea says a direct land route would lure more visitors to Mount Kumgang and cut operating costs. Currently, tourists have to take a 12-hour boat ride to the resort.

The joint tourism project was the first major milestone in South Korea's effort to engage North Korea. That effort hit a high point in the first-ever inter-Korean summit in June, 2000, when both sides promised to work toward eventual reunification.

But reconciliation efforts stalled early this year. Inter-Korean talks resumed only in September, bringing hope of renewed progress on the tourism issue, and plans to hold more reunions for some of the families separated for decades by strife on the Korean peninsula.

The two countries never signed a peace agreement after their three-year war in the early 1950's, and so remain technically at war.