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Hyundai, North Korea make no breakthrough to save landmark tour
( 2001-05-28 15:13 ) (7 )

South Korea's troubled Hyundai Group has failed to achieve a breathrough in week-long negotiations with North Korea to save its loss-making tours to the north, officials said Monday.

Kim Yoon-Kyu, president of Hyundai Asan Co., the group's key North Korean business arm, admitted achieving no agreement during his visit to Pyongyang between May 22 and 28.

Hyundai Asan has sought approval from the North to halve its payments for touring Mount Kumgang, just north of the inter-Korean border, and to open new land routes to replace expensive ferry links.

"No accord was made on the land routes," Kim said upon his arrival at the South's eastern coastal city of Tonghae from the North.

He said both sides would continue to discuss Hyundai Asan's request for its monthly tour fees paid to North Korea to be cut from US$12 million to US$6 million.

The tours, which began in 1998, have played a key role in inter-Korean rapprochement, backed by South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung.

But the landmark project faces a bleak future due to Hyundai Asan's financial troubles and a dwindling number of tourists.

Hyundai Merchant Marine Co., the ferry operator, has cut 12 of the 20 cruise services scheduled to run to Mount Kumkang this month. In April, it also cancelled 10 of its scheduled 21 ferry services.

The number of tourists fell to around 30,000 in the first four months of this year from 67,000 during the same period in 2000, it said.

The Hyundai firms have been under increasing pressure from creditors over the venture, which is worsening liquidity problems.

Hyundai Asan is also seeking to run casinos and duty-free shops near Mount Kumgang and on the ferries in a bid to offset its losses.



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