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North Korea

North Korea’s Kaesong gets UNESCO World Heritage status

The UN's cultural arm has added sites around Kaesong in North Korea to the latest World Heritage list. A complex of ancient tombs in Pyongyang won the coveted status in 2004.

On Sunday, UNESCO approved the bid to add the sites to the list at its meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. UNESCO announced that 12 sites in Kaesong - the heart of the Koryo dynasty, which ruled Korea from 918 to 1392 and unified the now-divided peninsula for the first time - embodied "the political, cultural, philosophical and spiritual values" of the kingdom.

The city becomes the second World Heritage site in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea after the Complex of Koguryo Tombs in Pyongyang, listed in 2004.

The committee also noted the "important progress made [by North Korea] to improve the nomination file" since 2000. "New development will be prohibited in the surrounding natural landscape that shows the relationship of feng shui with individual historical sites," the committee announced.

After the post-World War II partitioning of the peninsula along the 38th parallel, Kaesong fell into South Korea, but came under the North's control during the 1950-53 war, becoming the only city to change hands in the conflict. Kaesong had recently served as the site where the two Koreas jointly ran a factory park until tensions forced its closure in April.

Hailing Kaesong's "outstanding universal value," UNESCO called the monuments "exceptional testimony to the unified Koryo civilization as Buddhism gave way to neo-Confucianism in East Asia."

As the decision was announced several black-suited North Korean delegates at the UNESCO annual session, stood and clapped. Thanking UNESCO for the listing, one of the North Koreans hailed the "joyful occasion" in a brief statement to the auditorium.

At the meeting, UNESCO has granted heritage status to more than a dozen sites, including two iconic volcanos - Japan's Mount Fuji, known for its perfectly cone-shaped volcano, and Italy's Mount Etna - as well as the Hill Forts of Rajasthan and the Namib Sand Sea.

mkg/jr (AFP, dpa, AP)