North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the destruction of South Korean-made hotels and other tourist facilities at the North’s Diamond Mountain resort, apparently because Seoul will not resume South Korean tours at the site.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Mr Kim had visited the resort and described its facilities as “shabby” and lacking national character.
The report said Mr Kim criticised North Korea’s policies pushed under his late father as too dependent on the South and vowed that the North would redevelop the site on its own.
His comments came during a prolonged freeze in relations with Seoul and are a major setback to liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met Mr Kim three times last year while expressing ambitions to reboot inter-Korean economic engagement.
The prospect for that has dimmed amid a standstill in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, which faltered after the collapse of a February summit between Mr Kim and President Donald Trump where the Americans rejected the North’s demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
South Korea’s government and companies built about a dozen tourist facilities in the Diamond Mountain area to accommodate tours that began in 1998, but were suspended in 2008.
North Korea said it took steps to freeze and confiscate all South Korean properties at the resort in 2010 and 2011 after blaming Seoul for the continued suspension in tours.
Eerily silent now are the Kumgangsan Hotel, with its theatre, karaoke room, mountain murals and crystal chandeliers, as well as the resort’s restaurants, spas and golf course.
The resort drew only a fraction of the 500,000 tourists projected to come annually and it lost millions of dollars for the South Korean investors.
The US and North Korea resumed working-level discussions in Sweden earlier this month, but the talks broke down in acrimony.
South Korean officials held back direct criticism on Mr Kim’s remarks, saying they need to take a closer look at the North’s intent.
Lee Sang-min, spokesman of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said the South will “actively defend the property rights of our people” and plans to accept any proposed talks by North Korea over the facilities.
He did not offer a specific answer when asked whether the South could do anything to stop the North if it begins to tear down the facilities unilaterally.
It was not immediately clear whether North Korea is intending to independently develop tourism at Diamond Mountain or trying to increase pressure on the South to restart the tours and upgrade the ageing facilities.
Tours to Diamond Mountain were a major symbol of co-operation between the Koreas before the South suspended them in 2008 after a North Korean guard fatally shot a South Korean tourist there.
Seoul cannot restart inter-Korean economic activities without defying US-led international sanctions against Pyongyang, which have been strengthened since 2016 when the North began speeding up its nuclear development.
Mr Kim instructed officials to entirely remove the “unpleasant-looking facilities” built by the South after discussing the matter with South Korean officials, and to construct “new modern service facilities our own way that go well with the natural scenery of Mt Kumgang”, the KCNA said.
“(Kim) said that the buildings are just a hotchpotch with no national character at all, and that they were built like makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area or isolation wards,” the agency said.
“He said that due to the mistaken policy of the predecessors who tried to get benefits without any efforts after just offering the tourist area, the mountain was left uncared for more than 10 years. He made a sharp criticism of the very wrong, dependent policy of the predecessors who were going to rely on others when the country was not strong enough.”