July 11, 2008

South Korean Minister Says North Tourist Shooting “Tragic Death”

Text of report in English by South Korean news agency Yonhap

SEOUL, July 11 (Yonhap) - The shooting death of a South Korean tourist to a North Korean resort on Friday, the first such incident since the unprecedented tourism programme was launched nearly 10 years ago, is a tragedy that could have been foreseen, if not prevented, considering the danger in the area that was once home to the communist nation's submarine unit, officials said.

The 50-year-old South Korean female was shot and killed by North Korean troops tightly guarding the Mount Geumgang [Ku'mgang] tourist attraction. The tourism programme, often considered a cash cow for the impoverished North, was launched in late 1998 by South Korea's Hyundai Asan.

South Korea's Defence Minister Lee Sang-hee [Ri Sang-hu'i] was quoted as saying it was a "tragic death," but other ministry officials noted that the risk of such an incident has always been present at the tourist site.

North Korea is said to have removed most of its military units from the area, including one of its major Navy ports that used to house its submarines and other Navy vessels, when it opened the area to South Korean tourists.

Still, tours to the famous North Korean mountain are strictly limited to areas permitted by the communist nation, with armed North Korean guards keeping a close watch on tourists around the clock.

Merely taking a picture in or of an unauthorized area often leads to a fine of hundreds of dollars.

"It is not appropriate or necessary for the military to take any action, as the accident did not involve any (South Korean) military personnel or take place along the border," a ministry official said.

Originally published by Yonhap news agency, Seoul, in English 0820 11 Jul 08.

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