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2008/07/17 10:40 KST


Koreas Clash Over Killing of S. Korean Tourist by N. Korean Soldier
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Political confrontation deepened between the two Koreas when a South Korean tourist was shot dead on July 11 by a North Korean soldier while she was taking a pre-dawn stroll on a beach near North's Mt. Kumgang tourist resort.

   North Korea claimed that Park Wang-ja, 53, crossed deep into a fenced-off military area, but fled toward her hotel when the soldier ordered her to halt. She died 200 meters from the fence at 4:50 a.m., according to statements from the North.

   The incident prompted Seoul to suspend the inter-Korean tour program since July 12. The program was launched by Hyundai Asan Co., an affiliate of the South Korean conglomerate Hyundai Group, in November 1998.

   The South Korean government has repeatedly asked for North Korea's full cooperation in investigating the death of the Seoul housewife, but the communist North has refused to allow South Korean investigators to enter, instead demanding an apology from South Korean authorities.

   The North's authorities in charge of the joint tourism program accused the victim of trespassing in a restricted military area, and insisted that the responsibility for the incident rests entirely with South Korea.

   On July 12, North Korea said that it regrets the death, but rejected Seoul's proposals to send a fact-finding team to the site. "A South Korean who came to tour Mt. Kumgang was shot to death by a serviceman of the (North) Korean People's Army at around 4:50 a.m. on July 11. The DPRK (North Korea) feels regretful at this," the spokesman for the Guidance Bureau for the Comprehensive Development of Scenic Spots said in a statement carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency.

   In response to the South's measures, the North called Seoul's decision to suspend the program a "challenge" to the North. "The south side authorities unilaterally announced that they would suspend the tour of Mt. Kumgang for the time being, a challenge to the North side," the spokesman added. The North also urged the South to apologize for the incident. "The south side should be held responsible for the incident, make clear apology to the North side and take measures against the recurrence of a similar incident," the spokesman said.

   South Korea's Unification Ministry said on July 12 that the killing cannot be justified under any circumstances since a proper investigative procedure should have come first, even if there was any problem caused by the tourist. "The North Korean military shot dead an unarmed (South Korean) female tourist. The act was wrong by any measure, unimaginable and should not have occurred at all," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the ministry, said in a statement. He also said the North's account left some questions, such as how the middle-aged housewife was able to cover a distance of about 3 kilometers in just 20 minutes.

   The tragic incident came hours before South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a proposal to North Korea to resume stalled dialogue. In his parliamentary speech on July 11, the president said his government is "willing to engage in serious consultations on how to implement the inter-Korean agreements made so far," including the two summit accords signed by his liberal predecessors. Pyongyang has stepped up harsh criticism of Lee, demanding he respect and inherit the accords.

   South Korea's presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, said on July 14 that the tour program will remain suspended until the shooting is "satisfactorily" explained and resolved. Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said in a media briefing that despite the halt of the tour program, the South Korean government is still determined to resume dialogue with North Korea on broad inter-Korean issues.