중앙데일리

How did the Mt. Kumgang killing affect the Koreas?

The tragic incident has complicated diplomacy and the already eroding relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Aug 26,2008
Many Koreans know at least one or two people, particularly the elderly, who have traveled to North Korea to visit mountains that all Koreans consider sacred.

Many people on both sides of the peninsula get nostalgic thinking about the mountains.

Koreans have long considered Mount Kumgang, along with Mount Paektu, both in North Korea, as their spiritual heartland. For centuries the beauty of these mountains had been worshipped and extolled in Korean art, in songs and literature.

But recently, beautiful Mount Kumgang has been shrouded by horror after the shooting death of a South Korean woman. The tragedy epitomizes the downward spiral of inter-Korean relations.

Park Wang-ja, a 53-year-old housewife from Seoul, was shot to death on July 11 during a visit to Mount Kumgang.

Since 1998, South Korea’s Hyundai Asan has taken more than 1 million South Koreans eager to get a glimpse of the beautiful scenery on its tours of the mountain area.

Park was one of those tourists.

On that fatal morning, she was taking an early morning walk on the beach near the hotel where she was staying.

North Korean authorities said Park had, before 5 a.m., entered an off-limits military area on the beach. After repeated warnings from North Korean soldiers to stop, Park they said tried to run away. She was hit by two bullets.

To some, the incident may look like an unfortunate happenstance. Some people might think Park was careless and intruded into a sensitive military area.

However, the incident has left many questions unanswered and helped complicate the already eroding ties between the two Koreas.

For one thing, it is unclear exactly when and where Park was shot.

When news of Park’s death first broke, North Korea said the soldier who shot Park first spotted her walking about 1.2 kilometers (1,312 yards) from the fence that marked the military zone.

But the North’s version of the story changed. It claimed the soldier saw Park just 800 meters from the boundary fence, but didn’t explain why an incorrect report was made in the first place.

In addition, the North Korean authorities initially said Park was shot when she was about 200 meters away from the fence at 4:50 a.m.

This account was also changed. It was reported that she was around 300 meters away from the fence, sometime between 4:55 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Due to such inconsistencies, many suspect the North’s new account may not be entirely correct.

A South Korean fact-finding mission team later said that Park must have been shot about 200 meters from the fence.

Their calculations are based on an analysis of photos taken by South Korean tourists nearby and photos of Park’s body taken by Hyundai Asan.

Additionally, North Korea said their soldier shot Park while she, ignoring the soldier’s warning to stop, was running away.

But Seoul’s investigation team asserted Park must have been standing still or walking slowly. This assumption was based on forensic evidence that the bullets left on Park’s clothes.

The investigators added that the shooter was probably standing about 100 meters behind Park.

Did the shooter have a clear view of his or her target? Did he or she know that the target was a middle-aged woman?

Meanwhile, Hyundai Asan is facing a serious financial fallout. The company has been forced to shut down its tourism program to the Mount Kumgang resort area, including duty-free shops and other operations at Kumgang, and it is now staring at a 40 billion won ($3.73 million) loss so far.

That amount is expected to snowball to 100 billion won if the current situation continues until the end of this year.

But the most unfortunate aspect of the incident and its lingering aftermath is that inter-Korean relations have been damaged so much that it is very hard to investigate the incident.

Without more information, Park’s family is denied closure.

Since the Lee Myung-bak administration began its hard-line stance on North Korea, both Seoul and Pyongyang have been spewing hostile rhetoric at each other. Pyongyang has blasted the Lee administration for its patronizing attitude and Seoul criticized Pyongyang for refusing to come forward to talk.

Not surprisingly, South Korean officials’ efforts to cajole the North into cooperating with its investigation has met with little success.

Not only were South Korean officials refused permission to investigate the scene of the shooting but Pyongyang had also ignored Seoul’s pleas to form a joint fact-finding mission.

The South Korean government even tried to take the case to the international community to press the North to cooperate, but the effort was thwarted.

Then, the situation reached new depths when the North, irritated by the words coming out of the South, ordered all South Korean government officials and state employees to leave the Mount Kumgang resort.

Even some employees of private companies, including Hyundai Asan workers, were forced to leave, with more set to follow.

The latest debacle also exposed weaknesses in the South Korean government.

It has been rapidly losing its contacts in the North, including official communication channels and even a hotline that former liberal administrations used.

South Korea’s tourism program to the North has not been without its problems since its inception 10 years ago.

But whenever tensions between the two Koreas boiled over and threatened to curtail the program, Seoul and Pyongyang managed to resolve their spat, often through under-the-radar communication channels.

But now Seoul seems to have few if any such channels left.

A senior Unification Ministry official admitted there is “no such hotline in operation” at present.

So what is going to happen now?

Will Park’s tragic death remain an unresolved mystery?

Will the two Koreas remain with their backs turned to each other for good?

We hope not, but what is clear at this point is that South Korea is desperately seeking to cajole North Korea to respond and cooperate with Seoul.

The United Nation’s World Food Program recently asked Seoul to contribute $60 million in food aid to North Korea, leaving Seoul in a delicate situation.

It has to consider the feelings of a skeptical public at home but also seek ways to mend bridges with Pyongyang.

Balancing these imperatives is the challenge that the administration must face, and it is one that it cannot shirk.


By Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter[hawon@joongang.co.kr]


A South Korean woman walks past an advertisement in Seoul for the Mount Kumgang resort, where a South Korean tourist was shot on July 11. [AP]




dictionary dictionary | 프린트 메일로보내기 내블로그에 저장