Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun points at the site where South Korean tourist Park Wang-ja was shot dead by a North Korean soldier at the Mount Geumgang resort, during a briefing at the Central Government Complex, Seoul, Saturday. / Korea Times Photo by Choi Jong-uk
By Kim Rahn
Suspicions and questions are arising about the death of a South Korean tourist shot Friday by a North Korean soldier in the North's Mount Geumgang resort.
Unification Ministry officials are skeptical about what the North Korean authority has explained to Hyundai Asan, operator of tour programs to North Korea.
According to the North's explanations of the incident relayed to Hyundai Asan, Park Wang-ja, a 53-year-old housewife from northern Seoul, went out of her hotel alone at 4:30 a.m. to see sunrise. Park entered a fenced off military area restricted to civilians, and walked about 1 kilometer further into the restricted zone. A North Korean soldier demanded Park stop but she ran away to the tourist area. The soldier fired a warning and then shot her twice when she was some 200 meters away from the fence. She died at about 5.00 a.m. at the scene.
Doctors at a South Korean hospital in Gangwon Province confirmed Park was shot in the chest and hip from behind.
The North's reports, however, have left many questions unanswered.
First, why and how did Park enter the restricted area? There are North Korean military facilities in the region, and tourists are repeatedly warned not to leave the tourist area. Hyundai Asan also said the beach area and the restricted zone are separated by a 2-meter-high fence. It is unlikely that the 53-year-old climbed over the fence. Park's family claimed it was impossible for her to walk the long distance from the hotel to the zone, about 3.3 kilometers in total, on a sandy beach in about 30 minutes.
Second, why didn't the North Korean soldiers prevent her from entering the zone in the first place? They did not stop Park until she had walked 1 kilometer inside the restricted zone.
Third, was the shooting a proper reaction? Even though Park disobeyed the warning, they could have come to her to stop her instead of shooting her. Minutes before sunrise, they could recognize she was a middle-aged civilian woman unarmed.
Testimonies by a witness and other tourists also conflict with the reports and Hyundai's claim about the safety caution.
A 23-year-old college student, Lee In-bok, said that he saw a woman strolling along the beach around 4:50 a.m. when he was with his friends there to see sunrise.
``About 5 to 10 minutes later, there were sounds of a gun twice, with an interval of about 10 seconds, and a scream. We saw a person on the ground and three soldiers moving to the person, touching her with their feet as if they were checking whether she was dead. We felt the soldiers watching us, so we returned to the hotel. We thought it was part of their drill,'' he said.
Unlike Hyundai's claim, Lee said people could enter the ``restricted'' zone easily and that there was nothing like fences, but simply a small brook.
A friend of Park also said she herself had strolled to the zone during the daytime the day before, and did not even know it was a restricted area because there was neither a fence nor a signboard.
Many dignitaries including Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong, and Hyundai Asan CEO Yoon Man-joon, expressed their condolence to Park's husband and son at Asan Medical Center in Seoul where the memorial altar was set up.
Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho said Sunday that the North's explanations do not make sense and cannot be accepted.
``To know exactly what happened, a government fact-finding team should be dispatched to the North. I strongly call for the North to accept our demands.''
The North has rejected the call from the South.