seoul – North Korea said Tuesday it will suspend a joint tourism project with South Korea, and delayed inter-Korean economic talks until the end of the funeral service for a top South Korean businessman who killed himself a day earlier.
On Monday, Chung Mong Hun jumped from his ofﬁce window in central Seoul. He was chief of Hyundai-Asan, a Hyundai subsidiary that runs joint ventures with communist North Korea, and was facing corruption charges.
North Korea’s Asia-Paciﬁc Peace Committee, which handles relations with South Korea, sent its condolences to Hyundai-Asan and Chung’s family.
Chung’s death “compels us to suspend the tour of Mount Kumgang for a certain period including the mourning period with profound grief over his death,” the committee said, according to KCNA, the North’s ofﬁcial news agency.
Also Tuesday, North Korea proposed to South Korea through a different channel that they delay talks on building two sets of railways and roads across their heavily fortiﬁed border until the funeral service for Chung is over.
North Korea made the proposal through a telephone message, the South’s Uniﬁcation Ministry said. The talks were scheduled to take place on Thursday and Friday in Kaesong, a North Korean town.
The Uniﬁcation Ministry said it had accepted the North Korean postponement and suggested to North Korea that it hold the talks next week.
The North Korean committee said Chung’s death was not a suicide, but a murder by South Korea’s independent counsel, which investigated Chung’s role in a scandal surrounding payments to Pyongyang before a summit between the Koreas in 2000. It also blamed South Korea’s opposition Grand National Party, which had been critical of the South’s engagement policy with the North.
Due to Chung’s death, the committee said in a statement that inter-Korean projects faced dangers.
“The murder of the man who started the tour of Mount Kumgang, a symbol of the inter-Korean cooperation, put the cooperation projects between the North and the South including the tour of Mount Kungang at an unpredictable peril,” the committee said.
On Tuesday, police said a South Korean man in his 80s took his life a day earlier by drinking poison. The man believed that Chung’s death would derail inter-Korean projects and diminish his chances of meeting his brothers in North Korea through periodic family reunion programs, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
The man, identiﬁed only as Kim, tried several times to join temporary family reunions programs, but was never selected by the government, it said.
Hyundai-Asan manages a ﬁnancially troubled tourism project at Mount Kumgang, or Diamond Mountain in English, in North Korea that began in 1998.
It also broke ground earlier this year on an industrial park in Kaesong, a North Korean town near the border with the South, and is building cross-border roads and railways. The projects have been delayed or disrupted by political tension, and have placed the company under severe ﬁnancial strain. It was not immediately clear who will take over Hyundai-Asan after the sudden death of Chung.
Hyundai Motor, South Korea’s No 1 carmaker run by Chung’s elder brother, Mong Koo, said Tuesday it has no intentions of taking over the company’s projects in North Korea.
Chung’s company was accused of helping former president Kim Dae Jung’s government secretly pay North Korea $100 million to agree to the 2000 summit. Chung was indicted on charges of doctoring company books to hide the money transfers and accused of embezzling company money to pay bribes.