North Korea seized all South Korean-owned assets in a jointly-run resort in the North on Monday and ordered all South Koreans to leave, state media said, in a move that will raise already simmering tensions.
Mount Kumgang had been closed since a North Korean soldier shot a South Korean tourist there in 2008, and Pyongyang said time had run out to resolve the dispute.
“All assets owned by South Korean companies in Mount Kumgang resort are banned from being taken out as of August 21,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.
It ordered all South Koreans to leave the resort “within 72 hours”, blaming Seoul for the stalled tourism project.
The seizure of the resort, once a symbol of cooperation between the Pyongyang and Seoul, comes with increasingly isolated North looking to reach out to the global community for aid as it struggles with famine and deadly floods.
Senior United States and North Korean officials held talks in New York in July and Kim Jong-Il is currently on a rare visit to Russia for a summit with President Dmitry Medvedev expected to focus on the impoverished communist state’s energy and food shortages.
Mount Kumgang, developed by the South’s Hyundai Asan and opened in 1998, was a vital source of hard currency for Pyongyang, once earning the impoverished North tens of millions of dollars a year.
But the South suspended tours by its citizens after a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist who had strayed into a restricted military zone there in July 2008.
It has said it will not restart them until the North allows an on-site investigation into the shooting and gives firm safety guarantees.
Seoul called Pyongyang’s latest move “regrettable” and vowed to take “all possible measures including legal and diplomatic actions” to reverse the decision.