S. Korean Tourist Is Shot Dead In North
Saturday, July 12, 2008
TOKYO, July 11 -- A North Korean soldier shot dead a middle-aged South Korean housewife Friday after she walked into a restricted area near a mountain resort inside the communist North.
Word of the shooting, which caused a suspension of a decade-old program that shuttled South Korean tourists to the resort, came just hours after South Korea's president tried in a major speech to mend North-South relations that have frayed in recent months.
"Full dialogue between the two Koreas must resume," President Lee Myung-bak told the opening session of the newly elected National Assembly.
Lee's seemingly star-crossed presidency has been crippled by street demonstrations against the purported mad cow dangers of imported U.S. beef. And his tough line toward North Korea -- conditioning aid on nuclear disarmament and improved human rights -- has chilled ties with his heavily armed neighbor and angered its leader, Kim Jong Il.
At the same time, relations between the North and the United States and Japan have warmed somewhat, as the North undertakes steps toward dismantling its nuclear program.
The killing of the 53-year-old tourist -- who reportedly was shot twice from behind, in the chest and the left hip -- seems certain to complicate, at least in the short term, what Lee said Friday would be a new effort on his part to consult with the North, help relieve food shortages there and "alleviate the pain of the North Korean people."
The shooting occurred very early Friday after the woman, who was identified as Park Wang-ja, left her room at the resort and crossed into a zone where visitors are not allowed, Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry, told reporters in Seoul.
Park pushed her way through a wire barrier separating the tourist area from the restricted zone, Hyundai Asan, a South Korean company that runs the resort, told the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency. It was unclear if she knew where she was going. By Kim's account, soldiers told her to halt, but she ran from them and was then shot.
Park's body was handed over to South Korean officials and taken to a hospital in the South Korean port city of Sokcho, Kim said.
Park's neighbors told Yonhap that she was "an ordinary housewife" with a husband and a son.
"We regret that our tourist was killed," Kim told reporters. He said the South Korean government, pending the results of an investigation, "will take appropriate corresponding measures."
Since Mount Kumgang was opened to outsiders in 1998, about 1.9 million people, nearly all of them South Koreans, have visited the resort on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. It is one of two North Korean locations that are open -- under tight rules -- for foreign visits.
As of Friday morning, there were 1,200 to 1,300 tourists at the resort. They were to start leaving Friday night and would all be gone by Sunday, Hyundai Asan told news agencies. The other tourist operation in North Korea -- at the former capital city Kaesong just north of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two states -- was not affected by Friday's shooting and will remain open, according to Hyundai Asan.
Since Lee was sworn in to office in February, the propaganda arm of the North Korean government has used unusually strong language to vilify him as a threat to peaceful dialogue on the Korean Peninsula and as a lap dog of the United States. In a major break from the policies of his two predecessors, Lee has not, at least so far, sent large shipments of free food and fertilizer to the North.
North Korea has come to depend on South Korean aid, especially fertilizer, to prop up a centralized farming system that almost always fails to produce enough food to feed the country's 23 million people.