Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In North Korea's Isolated Tourist Zone, a Temple Rises ; Its South Korean Funders Say It Offers Potential for Cultural Exchange. but the Monk Who Oversees It Readily Admits No North Koreans May Visit

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In North Korea's Isolated Tourist Zone, a Temple Rises ; Its South Korean Funders Say It Offers Potential for Cultural Exchange. but the Monk Who Oversees It Readily Admits No North Koreans May Visit

Article excerpt

As they lead visitors along a trail below craggy rocks inscribed with praise for the late "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, young North Korean guides offer a carefully crafted narrative.

They criticize President Bush. They take on US policy. And last weekend, they appeared eager to denounce the dismissal of Kim Yoon Kyu, who is currently under investigation for fraud. The South Korean executive worked for more than 10 years to develop this unusual tourist zone on the east coast several miles above the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.

"We are willing to reduce the number of tourists coming here as an expression of our confidence in him," says Koo Eun Hyun, a smiling 20-year-old, repeating the North's demand for reinstatement of Mr. Kim as president of Hyundai Asan, part of the Hyundai group, which is investing $1 billion in building the complex.

Mr. Kim led the project, now subsidized by the South Korean government, from the time the first shiploads of visitors sailed from South Korea seven years ago. Tourists now travel by newly paved road, and Hyundai Asan in June announced the millionth visitor - far short of the 5 million it had hoped for.

Indeed, the project loses vast amounts of money, and is likely to lose still more. The standoff over Kim's dismissal is escalating amid a South Korean investigation into alleged fraud in economic projects in the North - including whether some funds wound up in the hands of North Korean officials - prompting the North to cut the quota of tourists from 1,200 to 600 a day.

Perhaps as a result, Kim Young Hyun, a Hyundai Asan vice president, prefers to talk about a $10 million project, largely funded by South Korea and Hyundai Asan, to rebuild a Buddhist temple complex inside the zone that was largely destroyed in the Korean War. "Buddhism is traditionally the religion for Koreans," he says. "Cultural exchange can be the foundation of economic exchange."

The Venerable Jejeong, the scholarly South Korean monk who oversees the complex readily admits that North Koreans are banned from the complex, just as they are from the rest of the zone, except when they come to work. …

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