The Mt. Kumgang killing

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The Mt. Kumgang killing

The North Korean army released a statement yesterday in the name of an army spokesperson concerning troops covering the Mount Kumgang area. North Korea has not agreed to a joint investigation of the killing of South Korean tourist Park Wang-ja on July 11. According to the statement, North Korean troops were justified in the shooting. Pyongyang says it’s the South that should calm down; the North will take whatever steps are necessary. Further, the North unveiled its plan to strengthen its management and control of the Mount Kumgang area. It will boot out “unnecessary” South Korean staff, take strict control over people and cars, and make strong military responses to any trivial hostile act.

It’s an instance of “The thief turns on the master with a club.” At the heart of the controversy surrounding the incident, in which a 53-year-old unarmed tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier before dawn, there is a central question: Did the North Korean soldier believe there was no choice but to shoot, and why? Granted, it’s unfortunate that the tourist walked into an off-limit area controlled by the North Korean military. But what if the shoe was on the other foot? How would the North feel if the South made the excessively inflammatory response by shooting a North Korean female tourist in the back?

Last week, a government joint investigation team suggested that the fatal shots were fired from a distance of less than 100 meters and that Park may have halted or was walking slowly when she was killed. The team also released the results of a simulation showing that at around 5 a.m., when a North Korean soldier shot Park, there was sufficient light to discern whether the target was a man or a woman. However, the North’s statement showed a wholly different claim ? that the soldier could not tell whether it was a man or a woman as it was before dawn. The North says its soldier told Park to halt many times but Park disobeyed and ran away.

As there is a huge gap in the explanations of the two parties, it is common sense and justifiable for the South to ask the North to cooperate in analyzing the incident and implementing measures to make sure it never happens again. The North should dispatch a field investigation team to work with the South on the matter. However, the North said that its duties ended when they sent Park’s body to Hyundai Asan’s staff who established her identity.

This is unacceptable.

No matter how strong the stance taken by the North’s military forces, it is a matter of the government’s basic responsibility ? protection of its citizen’s life. There is no room for compromise. The government should not wait for the North to suddenly develop a responsible attitude. North Korea is simply trying to pass the buck to the South on this latest deadlock in inter-Korean relations.

Therefore, it is right to try to resume bilateral talks on other matters.

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