Cash-short North Korea opens up to U.S. tourists

SEOUL Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:51am EST

1 of 3. A North Korean village in Kaepoong county on the north side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, is seen in this picture taken from south of the DMZ in Paju, about 50 km (31 miles) north of Seoul January 12, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

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SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea appears ready to welcome visitors from the United States year-round, increasing the trickle of tourists from its sworn enemy who provide the reclusive state with hard cash.

North Korea, which had restricted U.S. tourists to visits that coincided with its mass games that usually run from August to October, will institute the change this year, Koryo Tours, a major group based in China that organizes visits to the isolated country said on Wednesday.

Destitute North Korea has lost out on tens of millions of dollars a year it used to earn through tourism with South Korea due to political wrangling with its rival over the North's military threats to the region and nuclear weapons program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has appealed to the South's Hyundai Group to resume the tours it once ran to a mountain resort and a border city in the North, but Seoul has not given its approval to restart the visits.

Americans would be allowed to stay in North Korea for up to four nights for highly managed tours where minders keep a close eye on the visitors as they see monuments to the North's leaders and stay at hotels designated for foreigners.

Tours start in China and cost about 700 euros ($1,000) to 1,500 euros ($2,175) for the four-night stay.

The North has allowed in a few hundred U.S. citizens a year since 2002 for the Arirang Mass Games, which is part dance show and part communist propaganda spectacle that incorporates tens of thousands of performers, according to Koryo Tours.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alex Richardson)

($1=.6903 Euro)

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