Seoul offers talks with Pyongyang over mountain resort project row

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Yangdok Hot Spring Resort. (Reuters)
Updated 29 October 2019

Seoul offers talks with Pyongyang over mountain resort project row

  • The proposal was delivered to the North through a liaison office in the North’s border city of Kaesong, and the date and venue were not specified

SEOUL: South Korea on Monday offered to hold working-level talks with North Korea on how to handle the North’s Mt. Kumgang resort, which leader Kim Jong Un recently branded as “shabby.”

The proposal for talks came days after North Korean authorities demanded that South Korea remove all of its resort facilities following Kim’s orders amid a general cooling in relations between the two Koreas in tandem with stalled denuclearization negotiations between Pyongyang and the US.

“The government proposed a working-level meeting be held between the authorities of the two Koreas to discuss the issues raised by the North,” said Lee Sang-min, spokesman for the Unification Ministry which overseas inter-Korean affairs.

“It is our government’s consistent stance that all pending issues in inter-Korean relations should be resolved through dialogue and consultations. It could hurt inter-Korean relations if a unilateral measure is taken against the property rights of South Korean businesses,” he added.

If the talks are held, officials from Hyundai Asan, the operator of the long-stalled Mt. Kumgang resort project, will accompany the government delegation, according to the ministry.

The proposal was delivered to the North through a liaison office in the North’s border city of Kaesong, and the date and venue were not specified, it said.

Located on the east coast of North Korea, Mt. Kumgang is one of the best-known mountains in the country.

The Mt. Kumgang tour program was launched in 1998 as a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation following the first-ever cross-border summit in Pyongyang between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-il.

But the operation of the resort tour has been suspended since 2008 when a South Korean female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard.

A series of North Korean provocations, including the attack on the Yeonpyeong Island of South Korea and the regime’s nuclear tests, hampered the resumption of the cross-border projects.

Focused on embracing the poverty-stricken northern brethren, the Moon Jae-in administration has sought to restart the tour project, along with the operation of a joint industrial complex in the North’s Kaesong.

Seoul’s government asked the Americans to lift sanctions partially to restart mountain tourism, but US President Donald Trump’s administration was concerned such a move could undermine US-led international economic sanctions aimed at tightening the communist state’s purse strings until the North was committed to full denuclearization.

Whether or not the North will accept the South’s offer for talks remains unclear.

“It’s totally up to the North’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un,” Yang Moo-jin, professor of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies said.

“The North made it clear that it would remove South Korean facilities in writing, but the South offered to hold in-person talks. Only the North Korean leader can make a decision on this now.”

Any pullout of South Korean buildings from the inter-Korean resort would be a blow for Moon’s peace initiative and the North’s denuclearization negotiations, said professor Kim Dong-yup, of Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

“In his new year’s message, Kim Jong Un pledged the resumption of the Mt. Kumgang resort and Kaesong industrial factory. With his patience thinning, Kim would take the option of excluding the South regarding the projects, further straining ties with the South,” he added.

Meanwhile, two US B-52 strategic bombers flew over the eastern waters of the peninsula last week, according to a private aviation tracker.

The bombers took off from Guam and conducted a mission in the East Sea, or the Sea of Japan, Aircraft Spots said on a Twitter post.  

The B-52 had often been deployed to the peninsula for joint operations with the South Korean military, but they have been suspended since Trump and Kim met in Singapore in April last year.

Experts speculate the mission appears to have been designed to send a warning to North Korea in response to its recent testing of short-range ballistic missiles and guided rockets.

“The main purpose of the bomber mission seems to have been checking activities by Russia, which has broadened the radius of its joint exercise into the East Sea, but B-52’s reappearance near the peninsula is being interpreted as a warning message to the North,” Kim Dae-young, an analyst with the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy said.


Indian woman who alleged gang rape dies after burn attack

Updated 07 December 2019

Indian woman who alleged gang rape dies after burn attack

  • The woman was attacked in the state of Uttar Pradesh by a group of men that included two of the five she had accused of gang rape last year
  • The 23-year-old woman suffered extensive injuries and was airlifted Thursday from Uttar Pradesh to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, where she died late Friday of cardiac arrest

NEW DELHI: An alleged rape victim in northern India who was set on fire while heading to a court hearing in the case has died in a New Delhi hospital, officials said Saturday.
The woman was attacked in the state of Uttar Pradesh by a group of men that included two of the five she had accused of gang rape last year, police said. The two were out of custody on bail.
Five men were arrested in connection with the burn attack, police said.
The 23-year-old woman suffered extensive injuries and was airlifted Thursday from Uttar Pradesh to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, where she died late Friday of cardiac arrest, said Dr. Shalab Kumar, head of the hospital’s burn unit.
Yogi Adityanath, the state’s chief minister, said that the case would be heard in a fast track court and that the “strictest of punishment will be given to the culprits.”
Priyanka Gandhi, general secretary of the opposition Congress party, faulted the Uttar Pradesh government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, for failing to provide the woman with security, even after a similar case in the state in which a woman who accused a BJP lawmaker of rape was severely injured in a vehicle hit-and-run incident.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, is known for its poor record regarding crimes against women. According to the most recent available official crime records, police registered more than 4,200 cases of rape in the state in 2017 — the most in India.
Government figures for 2017 also show that police registered 33,658 cases of rape in the country. But the real figure is believed to be far higher as many women in India don’t report cases to police due to fear.
Indian courts also seem to be struggling to deal with these cases. Data shows that more than 90% of cases of crimes against women are pending in city courts.
The burn victim’s death came on the same day police in the southern state of Telangana fatally shot four men being held on suspicion of raping and killing a 27-year-old veterinarian after investigators took them to the crime scene. Their deaths drew both praise and condemnation in a case that has sparked protests across the country.
The woman’s burned corpse was found last week by a passer-by near the city of Hyderabad, India’s tech hub, after she went missing the previous night.
Police took the four suspects, who had not been charged with any crime, to the scene to help them locate the victim’s phone and other items, officials said. They said the men grabbed police firearms and began shooting, and were killed when police returned fire.
The Telangana High Court ordered authorities to preserve the bodies of the suspects and submit a video of the autopsies ahead of a court hearing set for Monday.
Separately, the National Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous body within India’s Parliament, sent a fact-finding mission to the crime scene and mortuary where the suspects’ bodies were held on Saturday amid questions from opposition lawmakers about the circumstances of the suspects’ deaths.