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2009/07/16 10:51 KST

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

South, North Korea Exchange Barbs on Anniv. of S. Korean Tourist's Death

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid a deepening stalemate in cross-border relations, South and North Korea exchanged accusations last week as the first anniversary of the shooting death of South Korean tourist at North Korean resort passed. On July 11 last year, a 53-year-old South Korean housewife named Park Wang-ja was shot dead after she allegedly wandered into a controlled military zone at the North's eastern resort of Mt. Kumgang.

   On the eve of the anniversary this year, South Korea renewed its call for inter-Korean dialogue over the unresolved case. But North Korea has repeatedly rejected proposals for an on-site investigation into the July 11 shooting death.

   One day after the tourist's death, South Korea suspended tours and called for an official probe to fully account for the incident. Pyongyang rejected the demand and, in retaliation, expelled "unnecessary" South Korean tour operators stationed at the resort.

   "On the first anniversary of the shooting death of the tourist at Mt. Kumgang, our government urges North Korea to come forward to government-to-government dialogue with immediacy and sincerity so as to resolve the case," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said July 10 in a statement read during a press briefing.

   "North Korea has been unresponsive to our proposals for dialogue, with a year now having passed since the incident," the ministry spokesman said.

   While the spokesman rebuked North Korea for ignoring its call to open an investigation into the death, Pyongyang responded with a warning over a joint industrial complex in Kaesong, just north of the inter-Korean border.

   Reciprocating with acerbic criticism and calling the South "rude and insincere" in its stance on the joint industrial park, the North warned that operations at the complex will "go according to its decisions."

   Prospects for an imminent breakthrough from inter-Korean stalemate were dim. Seoul's position remained unchanged in demanding an investigation before the tours are resumed, a demand unlikely to be accepted by the North.

   The suspension deepened financial woes for Hyundai Asan Corp., a unit of Hyundai Group that operated the North Korean tours. Hyundai Asan's president, Cho Kun-shik, expressed hope that the tours would resume despite the tensions. "Although there are temporary ups and downs, I'm confident that we will seize the chance to resume (the tours)," Cho told his employees.

   Adding to the tension, a South Korean worker has remained in detention in North Korea for more than 100 days since he was taken into custody at the Kaesong industrial park. The North accused the worker of criticizing its political system and trying to persuade a local female employee to defect to the South.

   The future of the joint park, located in the North's border town of Kaesong, became uncertain after North Korea declared all existing inter-Korean contracts null and void and said it will unilaterally set new conditions on terms of use for South Korean companies operating there.

   North Korea later proposed government-level talks, the first in more than a year, to discuss the joint park. But after three rounds of dialogue, with the latest on July 2, no progress had been made, with Pyongyang refusing to discuss Seoul's key concern regarding the South Korean worker detained at the joint park since March 30.