- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 5 (UPI) — North and South Korea on Wednesday opened a road across their heavily militarized border for an inter-Korean tour project to the North's mountain resort, the first such crossing point since the Korean War.

Despite mounting tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear programs, a South Korean delegation went traveled on the newly built road to test a route across the Cold War frontier to Mount Kumgang.

Some 100 South Koreans, mostly tourism officials, crossed the border on 10 buses. The test trip was led by Chung Mong-hun, a business tycoon who has led business ties between South Korea's Hyundai Group and North Korea.

Hyundai expects overland tourist trips to begin late next week.

"With the opening of the overland route, I expect that more firms can participate in the joint economic projects with the North. I also expect the public supports for the South-North tourism project," Chung said.

The cross-border route is significant as the two Koreas are in a state of technical war since their armed conflict ended in an armistice in 1953. Their border is the world's last Cold War frontier with nearly 2 million troops on both sides.

The tour project has been praised as the symbol for reconciliation between the Cold War rivals initiated by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung who has pushed for his "sunshine policy" of economic cooperation with the North.

"I am happy to see the opening of a road between South and North Korea after many twists and turns. I hope the road will accelerate inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation," presidential spokeswoman Park Sun-sook quoted Kim as saying.

Hyundai launched the cruise tour in 1998 to the North's mountain resort on the east coast. But the project has subsequently run into trouble because of a lack of tourists and Hyundai's financial woes.

High cruise tour costs and long travel time on the ship discouraged South Korean tourists. Hyundai expects overland travel will cut costs and travel time by more than half, making the trip more attractive.

"We expect a steep surge in the demand for cheaper overland sightseeing," said Kim Yoon-kyu, president of Hyundai Asan, which handles North Korean business projects for Hyundai.

The mountain resort is the only place in North Korea where South Koreans are allowed to freely mingle.




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