North demolition hotel, which was a symbol of Korean commitment

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea is demolishing a South Korean-owned hotel at a North Korean resort that was one of the last symbols of inter-Korean engagement, according to Seoul officials, who urged the North to end the “unilateral” demolition.

South Korea built dozens of facilities at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain Resort to support its citizens’ tourism during a period of intense disputes between the rivals in the 1990s. But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called South Korean facilities there “shabby” and ordered their demolition in 2019 after months of frustration that Seoul was unwilling to defy US-led sanctions preventing the resumption of the prevented tours.

The North has postponed demolition work in 2020 amid strict COVID-19 prevention measures.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which oversees inter-Korean affairs, said Friday that North Korea is proceeding with the demolition of the Haegumgang Hotel. The floating hotel, docked on a stretch of shore at the resort, was a key property among dozens of facilities South Korea built for the Diamond Mountain tours that began in 1998.

Unification Ministry spokesman Cha Deok-cheol said it was not clear if the North also destroyed other facilities at the site. He said Seoul “deeply regrets North Korea’s unilateral dismantling of the hotel” and urged the North to start talks to resolve disagreements over the South Korean properties at the site.

Commercial satellite imagery shows demolition work has been underway for weeks. Cha said Seoul used inter-Korean communication channels to request an explanation and talks on the issue, but the North ignored the request.

The demolition comes amid heightened tensions over recent rocket launches. North Korea conducted its first ICBM test since 2017 on March 24, when Kim relaunched its brinkmanship to force the United States and other rivals to accept the North as a nuclear power and lift crippling sanctions.

South Korean tours to Diamond Mountain were an important symbol of inter-Korean cooperation and a valuable source of cash for the North’s battered economy before the South suspended them in 2008 after a North Korean guard fatally shot a South Korean tourist.

South Korea cannot resume mass travel to Diamond Mountain or other key inter-Korean economic activities without defying sanctions, which have been tightened since 2016 when the North began speeding up its nuclear and missile tests. While UN sanctions do not directly ban tourism, they do prohibit bulk cash transfers that may result from such business activities.

During her brief diplomacy in 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Kim three times and vowed to resume Diamond Mountain tours, expressing optimism that sanctions could end. But North Korea halted cooperation with the South after diplomacy with the US collapsed in 2019 and Seoul failed to wring concessions from Washington on its behalf.

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