North Korea refuses talks with South over flagship resort

Seoul (AFP) –


North Korea on Tuesday rejected Seoul's request for talks on the fate of a flagship tour complex condemned by leader Kim Jong Un, dismissing meetings as "unnecessary", the South said.

The abrupt rebuff is a stark illustration of the dire state of inter-Korean relations, which have plummeted since the collapse of a February summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi on the North's nuclear programme.

Pyongyang has repeatedly excoriated Seoul, saying it has "nothing to talk (about) any more" with the South.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has lambasted the Mount Kumgang resort, built by the South's Hyundai Asan group on one of the peninsula's most scenic mountains.

He described South Korean-built facilities there as "a hotchpotch with no national character at all" and "like makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area or isolation wards", ordering their removal, Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency reported last week.

The North sent a message Friday that Seoul should come and raze the buildings at an "agreed-upon date".

In response, South Korea on Monday asked for working-level talks on the issue, but the North refused Tuesday and "insisted on an exchange of documents" instead, said Seoul's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations.

The Mount Kumgang complex once drew hundreds of thousands of Southern visitors and was a symbol of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

But the tours came to an abrupt end in 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot dead a tourist from the south who strayed off an approved path, and Seoul suspended travel.

The reclusive North has long wanted to resume the lucrative visits, but they would now violate international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic weapons programmes.