North Korea rejects joint investigation of South Korean tourist shooting


North Korea rejected an offer by South Korea to conduct a joint investigation of the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist by North Korean soldiers in July 2008. North Korea in talks about the resumption of package tours to the resort said soldiers had acted within the rules by firing on “an unidentified infiltrator.”

Park Wang-ja, the victim, was a woman in her 50s and was apparently killed when she strayed into a military area near a hotel where she stayed.

A South Korean source said North Korea blamed Park for straying into the zone during prohibited hours (midnight until 6 a.m.), while visibility was poor at around 4:50 a.m., before sunrise. But South Korean officials said the gunshot was heard by witnesses around 5:15 a.m., which was after sunrise, and the North Korean military failed to put a sentry on guard in the area to warn tourists against trespassing.

South Korean officials asked for a joint fact-finding probe, but North Korea said while it is “unfortunate” that a South Korean tourist died, it cannot agree.

South Korean officials also asked for a revision of regulations for South Koreans staying in the North according to international regulations to prevent a recurrence of an incident last year, when a Hyundai Asan staffer was essentially held hostage by the North for 136 days. But the North Koreans stonewalled again, saying the regime “already guarantees the safety of tourists.”

Following talks last year between Hyun Jung-eun, the chairwoman of tour organizer Hyundai Group, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last year, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that the safety of tourists will be guaranteed following a special order from Kim.

Still, a South Korean intelligence source said North Korean officials appeared to be “desperate” to resume tours to Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong. North Korea wants tours to Kaesong to resume on March 1 and to Mt. Kumgang on April 1. The hermit country earned more than US$500 million from the Mt. Kumgang tours alone over the last 10 years.