[Update 2: Her name was Park Wang-Ja. As her body was returned to a grieving husband and son, North Korea reminded us that the Korean word for “chutzpah” is “juche”:
North Korea expressed regret Saturday that one of its soldiers shot dead a South Korean tourist at a resort area of the North, but blamed the tourist for trespassing into an off-limits military zone and demanded South Korea apologize for the incident. Pyongyang also rejected Seoul’s request to send a fact-finding mission to the shooting site and refused to accept any more South Korean tourists until an apology is forthcoming, the official Korean Central News Agency said. [Kyodo News]
(Photos by Reuters/Xinhua)
The South Koreans are telling Kim Jong Il where to put said demand.
The South Korean government said Sunday the killing of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier last Friday ”cannot be justified under any circumstances,” effectively rejecting North Korea’s demand for an apology over the incident.
The government’s Unification Ministry also questioned North Korea’s account of what happened, calling it ”very doubtful” and ”not sufficiently convincing,” according to Yonhap News Agency.
”The North Korean military shot dead an ordinary woman tourist, who was unarmed and didn’t show any intention to resist,” it said in a statement. ”The act was wrong by any measure, unimaginable and should not have occurred at all.” [Kyodo News]
This wouldn’t be happening if Kim Dae Jung were still alive. I know, but have you seen him lately? We’re also learning some details about the circumstances of the incident:
”From a common sense point of view, the explanation given by the North…is not sufficiently convincing,” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho Nyeon was quoted by Yonhap as saying.
Closed circuit television footage from the victim’s hotel shows she went outside at 4:30 a.m. while the soldier shot her dead, according to Pyongyang’s account, some 200 meters short of the boundary fence at 4:50 a.m. Kim said that considering the hotel is 706 meters from the beach, the beach entrance is 428 meters from the fence, and the area where the soldier claimed to have first detected her is 1,200 meters from the fence, ”Mrs. Park must have covered 3,334 meters at most or 3,000 meters at least, according to the North’s claim.”
”It is very doubtful that such a woman in her 50’s had covered about 3 kilometers in just 20 minutes. In addition, the area was entirely sand,” he said, according to Yonhap. The Unification Ministry statement said that under a previous inter-Korean agreement, North Korea is obliged to guarantee the safety of South Korean visitors to scenic Mt. Geumgang, also known as Mt. Kumgang, where nearly 2 million tourists from the South have traveled since it was opened to them in 1998.
The AP’s Jae Soon Chang quotes eyewitnesses:
Yonhap news agency cited a tourist who returned from the resort Friday as saying he saw a middle-aged woman dressed in black walking along the beach before hearing two gunshots and a scream about 10 minutes later.
“When I looked at the direction where the gunshots were heard, there was one person collapsed and three soldiers ran out of a forest and touched the person with their feet as if trying to see if that person is alive,” Yonhap quoted 23-year-old Lee In-bok, a college student, as saying.
Lee told Yonhap that he and five others witnessed the incident while at the beach to watch the sunrise and that they were about 300 meters away. [AP, Jae Soon Chang]
Even South Korean President Lee Myung Bak commented on the North’s now-familiar combination of cruelty and implausibility:
“What cannot and should not happen has happened,” Lee told a security ministers’ meeting, according to his office. “I can’t understand that they shot a civilian tourist” at a time of the day when it is possible to discern she is a civilian, Lee said. He also urged Pyongyang to “actively cooperate” in an investigation. [….]
If Lee has full sac, he’ll call the tours off permanently. His government can no longer guarantee the safety of its citizens there. Nine years into the Kumgang experiment, we have the ultimate illustration of the fact the tours have not made the North incrementally less cruel or paranoid.
Never let anyone say again that Keumgangsan is not an authentic North Korean experience. [link]
The North wants engagement on its own terms: easy money without compromising the totality of its control. During all of Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun’s efforts to engage the North, the North pursued a consistent policy of “take the money and run.” It accepted aid, provided it came without conditions, and fenced off any efforts at engagement that might reach ordinary North Korean citizens. After a decade of Sunshine, the punishment for stepping through the veil of paranoia is what it has always been: death.
And why won’t the Street react to the murder of a fellow citizen? As if we didn’t know who was pulling their strings.]
[Update 1: This rates 1 out of 10 possible points on the OhMyNews Scale, although my gut says the street’s reaction will probably rate somewhere between 3 and 4.]
The woman was shot by a North Korean soldier at the Kumgang tourist zone after crossing into a restricted zone:
The 53-year-old housewife was taking a stroll at a beach near the Mount Geumgang resort when the incident took place, the ministry said.
South Korea will suspend tourism to the resort from Saturday to properly cope with the incident, according to Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the ministry. “We will shelve the program starting tomorrow until a probe into this incident is completed,” Kim told reporters.
The woman identified as Park Wang-ja broke through wire entanglements, crossed into a restricted North Korean zone and approached a North Korean military unit, said Hyundai Asan, the South Korean operator of the program, citing North Korean accounts.
She was shot in the chest and leg, the company said. [Yonhap]
You know, I’m beginning to question whether all of this sunshine and engagement really is changing the character of North Korean society or its regime. Wasn’t this guy watching the New York Philharmonic concert?
North Korea claimed the woman ignored repeated warnings and ran away before the solider opened fire at about 5 a.m., according to the company. It said the North informed the company about the death four hours later.
Well, there you go.
Since its launch in 1998, the tour has been halted three times, including once because of the North’s detention of a South Korean tourist. Park was the first South Korean to be shot dead while taking part in the tour program.
The loss-making Kumgang project has long been subsidized by the South Korean government to allow its operator, Hyundai Asan Corporation, to pay increasingly steep fees to the North Korean regime. There have long been suspicions that the North Koreans, in turn, have diverted some of those funds for military uses. Last October, South Korea said it would cut the subsidies, but it’s not clear that it ever did.
Robert Koehler, who has a long head start on me, notes that South Korea has suspended tours to the North.
A muted reaction on the South Korean street may provide further evidence that there is no hope whatsoever for South Korea to become a meaningful engine of its own reunification. And that’s exactly what I predict.