July 21, 2008

South Korean Ministry Denies Press Report on Shooting of Tourist in North

Text of report in English by South Korean news agency Yonhap

[Yonhap headline: "N.K. Says Shooting of S. Korean Tourist Was Accidental: Civic Activists"]

Seoul, July 21 (Yonhap) - North Korean officials say the killing of a South Korean tourist by their soldier was unintentional and are worried about possible far-reaching repercussions on inter-Korean ties, South Korean civic group activists said Monday.

"Many North Korean officials with the North's Council for National Reconciliation asked about the atmosphere in the South (following the incident). Some said the shooting was not premeditated," a civilian group official who recently returned from a trip to Pyongyang told Yonhap News Agency. He requested not to be named.

Park Wang-ja, 53, was shot dead by a North Korean soldier on July 11 at a beach near Mount Geumgang [Ku'mgang], a resort mountain on the North's east coast, while on a tour to the mountain.

North Korea claimed the soldier fatally shot the tourist after she strayed into a restricted military area and fled despite a warning shot and repeated orders to stop. Seoul suspended the Mount Geumgang [Ku'mgang] tour and discussions on sending corn and other materials in aid to the North.

The North has expressed regret at the death but is refusing to cooperate in South Korea's fact-finding efforts. The killing further strained already soured political ties between the two governments and is feared to affect civilian exchanges as well.

Another South Korean relief group activist who returned from Pyongyang last week said the North Korean officials he met showed embarrassment and regret at the shooting death.

"Officials with the North's Council for National Reconciliation said it was not a premeditated incident and should not have happened," the activist said, also requesting anonymity.

He said the North Koreans expressed hope that the issue will be addressed as soon as possible and not influence inter-Korean relations.

Also on Monday, Dong-ah Ilbo, quoted a South Korean intelligence official as saying that the soldier who shot the woman was a newly enlisted 17-year-old female and that the North Korean authorities were not involved in the shooting.

The Unification Ministry denied the report during a daily press briefing, saying the government had no such information.

Some South Korean news media speculated that the North intentionally killed the South Korean civilian to pressure President Lee Myung-bak [Yi Myo'ng-pak] to abandon his tough policy towards Pyongyang.

Lee, who took office in late February, has vowed to take a firmer position than his predecessors on North Korea's human rights record and nuclear weapons programmes.

Originally published by Yonhap news agency, Seoul, in English 0620 21 Jul 08.

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