The facilities South Korea built at a tourist site in the North look “like makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area” and should be replaced by a series of “modern” buildings, Kim Jong Un said Wednesday.
He made the comments after touring the Mount Kumgang resort, an economic project constructed with the help of South Korea following the Korean War.
South Koreans started visiting the resort in 1998, but were ordered by their government to halt their travels a decade later after a female tourist was gunned down by one of the North’s soldiers for apparently walking into a military zone, The Guardian reported.
“Learning in detail about the service facilities in the tourist area, he said that the buildings are just a hotchpotch with no national character at all, and that they were built like makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area or isolation wards,” the state-run KCNA news agency quoted Kim Jong Un as saying about the South Korean-made structures. “He added they are not only very backward in terms of architecture but look so shabby as they are not taken proper care of.”
Kim Jong Un described Mount Kumgang as “our land, won at the cost of blood; and even a cliff and a tree there are associated with our sovereignty and dignity.”
“He called for removing all the unpleasant-looking facilities of the south side… and building new modern service facilities our own way that go well with the natural scenery of Mount Kumgang,” it added.
Since the tourism ban in 2008, the resort has hosted some reunions of families separated by the Korean War — but any attempt by the South to further invest in it would be in violation of international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.
The resort drew only a fraction of the 500,000 tourists projected to come annually and has lost millions of dollars for South Korean investors.
South Korean officials on Wednesday held back direct criticism on Kim's remarks, saying they need to take a closer look at the North's intent.
Lee Sang-min, spokesman of Seoul's Unification Ministry, said the South will "actively defend the property rights of our people" and plans to accept any proposed talks with North Korea over the facilities, according to the Associated Press. He didn't offer a specific answer when asked whether the South could do anything to stop the North if it begins to tear down the facilities unilaterally.
The criticism from North Korea about the resort also comes as the U.N. is raising concerns about the availability of food in the Hermit Kingdom.
"The country's economic resources are being diverted away from the essential needs of the people," Tomas Ojea Quintana, the body’s independent investigator on human rights, reportedly told the general assembly’s human rights committee Tuesday.
Quintana said 140,000 children in North Korea are estimated to be suffering from poor nutrition, 30,000 of which are facing an “increased risk of death,” according to Al Jazeera. Nearly half of the country’s population of 11 million people are estimated to be undernourished, he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report