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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Tourism plan for North Korea

Hyundai machines to prepare a North Korean port for the visits

Andrew Wood reports from Seoul

North Korea, this secretive and sometimes warlike country, might be on its way to become an international tourist resort.

The South Korean company, Hyundai, was supposed to start tours to the North in September, and now another firm says it has struck a deal there to build a luxury tourist resort for foreigners.

The Tongil Group, also a South Korean company associated with the Unification Church or Moonies, is to build a hotel and ski course and expand development of the tourist zone on Mount Kumgang.

It says the trips will start on the same day as Hyundai's cruises to the North.

Hyundai's founder, Chung Ju Yung, like many other South Koreans, was born in the North, now sealed off from the South.

The conflict, which led to the division ended 45 years ago, but the two Koreas, technically at least, remain at war - and de facto divided.

But many Koreans thirst for unification and knowledge of what the other side of the border is like.

Earlier this year, Chung Ju Yung visited his home village in the North. He brought a gift of 500 cows, and returned with promises of deals, including one to start tourist trips to the North.

But the launch of the day visits had to be postponed, because of arguments over charges to tourists. North Korea is short of food and foreign currency to pay for it.

Famine may have claimed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives - figures are difficult to estimate as North Korea is secretive and limits access, although these tourist trips may well help to change that.

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