Few tourists and sadness over divided Korea at Kim holiday villa

Fri Apr 12, 2013 4:45am EDT
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By Ju-min Park and Ronald Popeski

GOSEONG, South Korea (Reuters) - Endless stretches of beach and lush forested hills long made a small South Korean border town the traditional playground of the elite in divided North and South Korea.

Now it struggles to attract tourists, partly under the weight of hostilities hurled across the militarized border a few kilometers away coupled with no realistic prospect of moves leading to unification.

Kim Il-Sung, the lionized founder of North Korea who launched the 1950-53 Korean war in which more than a million people died, favored a seaside villa built for foreign missionaries when Japan occupied the Korean peninsula.

The South's first president had his own retreat just down the road on the shore of a picturesque lake.

Fewer holidaymakers now trickle into the area and even the 101st anniversary of Kim's birthday, to be celebrated on Monday in the North with pomp and perhaps missiles, has done nothing to lift interest.

"This is where the top one percent of high-ranking officials came for their holidays," said Ham Ji-su, a guide at Goseong town's empty tourist information kiosk on a blustery spring day. "People just want to find out why these people came here."

Advocates of cross-border tourism, part of a short-lived "Sunshine Policy" that brought warmer North-South ties at the beginning of the millennium, say it has gone the way of failed cooperation ventures under the North's 30-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un, the state founder's grandson.

They point to North Korea's closure last week of the jointly run Kaesong industrial park. There are also reminders of Goseong's own aborted project - a recreation complex at Mount Kumgang over the border, closed in 2008 when a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist.   Continued...

The Kim Il-Sung villa is seen on a hill on South Korea's east coast in Goseong, about 330 km (205 miles) northeast of Seoul April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won