|A South Korean woman yesterday walks past an advertisement in Seoul for the Mount Kumgang resort, a tourist enclave inside the communist North. A North Korean soldier shot a South Korean woman, 53, twice from behind when she wandered into a restricted military zone yesterday. [AP]|
A 53-year-old South Korean woman who was on a trip to Mount Kumgang in North Korea was shot to death by a North Korean soldier after she entered a restricted military zone, the South Korean government announced yesterday.
The first death of a South Korean tourist in the North clouded President Lee Myung-bak’s speech yesterday in which he announced his intention to revive inter-Korean relations.
Seoul announced it would temporarily halt its tourism program with the North as of today.
Park Wang-ja, a Seoul resident, was shot to a death around 5 a.m. yesterday when she entered an off-limit military zone at a beach in Jangjeon port area, Unification Ministry’s spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said in a briefing.
Park was one of some 1,500 tourists visiting the Kumgang Mountain area in the North this week. The tour program began in 1998 by South Korea’s Hyundai Asan.
According to Kim, a North Korean authority told Hyundai Asan at 11:30 a.m. yesterday that a North Korean soldier warned Park to stop when she was caught walking in the military area early in the morning. When Park tried to run away, the soldier shot her.
She was staying at the Kumgang Family Beach Hotel near the beach where she was killed. It is not known yet why Park was walking around the military area at such an early hour.
Park’s body, with two gunshot wounds to her backside, is currently being held at Sokcho Medical Center, Gangwon Province, which is near the inter-Korea border, Kim said.
“We will take necessary actions to investigate the accident ... and we urge the North to actively cooperate with the probe,” said Kim.
“We will temporarily halt the Mount Kumgang tourism program until the investigation is completed and will take measures based on the results.”
Kim Jung-tae, director of the ministry’s Inter-Korean Exchanges and Cooperation Bureau, also said the South Korean government has not yet received any official notification from Pyongyang.
About 1,300 South Korean tourists who were staying in the North were being sent back to the South beginning yesterday afternoon.
The tourism program was first envisioned by the late Hyundai Group Chairman Chung Ju-yung who visited North Korea in 1989 and signed the contract for a project to develop the Mount Kumgang area as a tourist attraction for South Koreans.
Nine years later, his son, Mong-hun, kicked off the program.
So far more than a million South Koreans have visited the mountainous area well known for beautiful scenery and is considered to be something of a spiritual heartland here.
Hyundai Asan reported the incident to the South Korean government at around 11:30 a.m. yesterday, about three hours before Lee made a speech at the National Assembly where he called for greater inter-Korea dialogue.
A Blue House senior official said Lee was notified about the incident when he was about to leave for the National Assembly, stressing that the two issues were not connected.
“The accident and today’s speech are two completely separate issues,” said the official who asked for customary anonymity. “We didn’t view this accident lightly ... today’s speech only concerned the overall framework and general directions for future inter-Korea relations.”
“We can’t change the big picture of government policy spontaneously,” the official said when asked whether the Blue House considered changing the speech after the accident was reported.
During his speech, Lee said “full dialogue between the two Koreas must resume.”
He said he is willing to seriously discuss with the North how to implement principles addressed at previous inter-Korea summits.
Inter-Korea relations have soured since Lee, well known for a hard-line view on the North, took office in February.
His political aides and top military commanders rarely shied away from making hawkish comments on Pyongyang.
Since Lee took charge, the North has refused to talk with the South and has even refused 50,000 tons of corn aid offered by Seoul.
By Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter [firstname.lastname@example.org]