(LEAD) N. Korea tears down S. Korean-built fire station at Mount Kumgang resort: Seoul

North Korea dismantled a fire station built with the South Korean government's budget at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North's east coast last month, the unification ministry said Friday. The ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs voiced "strong" regret over North Korea's "unilateral" removal of the South Korean government asset at the scenic mountain resort and warned of possible legal actions. "The government expresses strong regret that North Korea unilaterally dismantled the fire station built by our government in the Mount Kumgang district," Koo Byoung-sam, a spokesperson at the ministry, told a regular press briefing. He urged Pyongyang to immediately cease such action and warned of legal measures, hinting that the government may file a compensation suit against North Korea. The government has filed a 44.7 billion-won (US$32.7 million) compensation suit with a Seoul court against the North's demolition of a joint liaison office in the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint inter-Ko rean industrial park in the namesake border city. "North Korea's unilateral dismantling cannot be justified ... and the North Korean regime should take all responsibility for this case, including the property infringement of our government," Koo said. The dismantled fire station is the first South Korean government-owned facility that the North has taken down at the resort, once considered a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation and a source of much-needed hard currency for the North. The two-story fire station was built in 2008 to protect South Korean tourists with 2.2 billion won in state funding. But the facility was rarely used as South Korea suspended tour programs at the resort just days after its completion because a South Korean female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard near the resort. Pyongyang claimed the tourist had ventured into an off-limits military area. With the latest removal, the only remaining government asset at the mountain resort is a venue for reunions of families separ ated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The last such reunion at the building took place in 2018. It remains unclear why the North only took down the fire station. In 2022, the North dismantled major facilities owned by Hyundai Asan, the South Korean operator of the tour program, at the resort, including the floating Haegumgang Hotel, the Ananti Golf Resort and the Onjong Pavilion. The move came as the North's leader Kim Jong-un ordered officials in 2019 to tear down all "unpleasant-looking" facilities built by the South. Inter-Korean ties have plummeted to the lowest ebb after Kim called for scrapping a decadeslong policy of seeking unification with South Korea and defining their relations as those between "two states hostile to each other" in a year-end party meeting. Source: Yonhap News Agency