Advertisement

Forum explores challenges in travel to North Korea

By
Kim Hyung-hwan, UPI News Korea
Rep. Sul Hoon of the ruling Democratic Party, (3rd L) speaks during a forum about enabling individual South Koreans to travel to North Korea at the National Assembly in Seoul on Wednesday. Photo by Moon Jae-won/UPI News Korea
Rep. Sul Hoon of the ruling Democratic Party, (3rd L) speaks during a forum about enabling individual South Koreans to travel to North Korea at the National Assembly in Seoul on Wednesday. Photo by Moon Jae-won/UPI News Korea

SEOUL, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Experts, civic groups and others gathered in Seoul to discuss allowing individual tourists to travel to North Korea, an idea proposed in January by President Moon Jae-in.

Rep. Sul Hoon of the ruling Democratic Party held the forum Wednesday at the National Assembly in Seoul.

Advertisement

"All South Korean people wish to visit North Korea. It is my duty to find a way to realize the wishes," said the fourth-term assemblyman, who is also a member of the governing party's supreme committee.

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul sent a message saying, "Individual tourism is not subject to U.N. sanctions. It will make people of the two countries friendlier to each other, thus facilitating the reunification of the two."

RELATED Hyundai Motor chairman to step down

Late last month, the Unification Ministry came up with detailed options, which it believes do not violate international sanctions.

But Harry Harris, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, urged Seoul to consult with Washington about the contentious issue, sparking criticism that the diplomat was meddling in the country's internal affairs.

"If Seoul has to get a green light of Washington for the individual tours, Pyongyang would think that the tourists are U.S. spies," said Kim Li-kyong, director of the Association of History and Culture for One Korea, a grass-roots group advocating the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

Advertisement
RELATED South Korea reports first COVID-19 death; cases rise to 104

"The Unification Ministry should forge ahead with the policy of allowing South Korean people to make individual visits to the North."

Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, concurred. He even asked the South to stop joint military drills with the United States for the next 12 months to enable individual tourism.

"We can resume the military exercises in case North Korea provokes," he said.

RELATED North Korea charges South's entertainment with 'destroying' language

In addition to the potential conflicts with the United States, the tourism plan has more obstacles. For one, it cannot work without the approval of North Korea, which has yet to make an official response.

South Korea also has to revise its law, which prevents its citizens from traveling North without a formal invitation from a North Korean organization or state institution.

The outbreak of coronavirus in China and its spread to the neighboring countries is also expected to delay discussion on travel.

In the 2000s, South Koreans were permitted to visit the Mount Kungang resort of North Korea. But a South Korean tourist who walked into a restricted area in 2008 was shot dead by a North Korean soldier. After that, tourism was banned.

One Korea is affiliated with the chairman of the ultimate holding company that owns United Press International.

Advertisement

Latest Headlines