A group of forestry experts and officials from a South Korean operator of an inter-Korean tour program visited a North Korean mountain on the east coast Wednesday to check pine trees damaged apparently by a drought.
Eight officials from the state-run Korea Forest Research Institute and Hyundai Asan crossed the inter-Korean border earlier in the day for a three-day visit to look into what went wrong with the pine trees at Mount Kumgang, according to the Unification Ministry.
“Some pine trees at the mountain withered and turned yellow,” a ministry official told reporters on Tuesday. “A recent drought that hit the North may be blamed for that, but more probing is needed.”
A joint survey on the pine trees kicked off at the request of the North, which has been grappling with what it called the worst drought in 100 years.
Sitting on the east coast near the heavily fortified inter-Korean border, Mount Kumgang is famous for its scenic views, including impressive peaks and thickly grown pine trees.
Hyundai Asan kicked off a joint tour program at Mount Kumgang in 1998, a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation, attracting some 2 million South Korean visitors until it was put on hold.
Seoul suspended the tour program in 2008, after the shooting death of a South Korean female tourist by a North Korean solider at the resort.
Pyongyang has called for the resumption of the tour program, which once served as one of the few legitimate revenue sources for the cash-strapped country.
“The mountain is an asset that we need to protect together. The Seoul government is also seeking to promote cooperation in the area of forestation with the North,” the official said. “In that sense, the government plans to take necessary action after an outcome of the survey comes out.”
But the official said that the probe into the trees has nothing to do with a possible resumption of the joint tour program. (Yonhap)
The Korea Herald