Image: Diamond Mountain in North Korea
Ahn Young-joon  /  AP FILE
South Korean tourists take photos at the Diamond Mountain in North Korea in June 2007.
updated 7/11/2008 5:04:52 AM ET 2008-07-11T09:04:52

A North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist Friday at a mountain resort in the communist north, prompting the South to suspend the high-profile tour program just as South Korean’s new president sought to rekindle strained ties between the divided countries.

The news of the shooting of a 53-year-old woman at Diamond Mountain resort emerged just hours after new President Lee Myung-bak delivered a nationwide address calling for restored contacts between the two Koreas, which have been on hold since he took office in February.

The woman had been ordered to halt after entering a military area early Friday at the resort, and ran away before North Korean soldiers opened fire, said South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon, quoting information given by the South Korean company that operates the resort, Hyundai Asan.

Kim said South Korea would suspend future Diamond Mountain tours until it completes an investigation into the case. Some 11,000 tourists already at the resort are to complete their tours as scheduled by as late as Sunday, Hyundai Asan said.

“We regret that our tourist was killed,” Kim said, adding that Seoul “will take appropriate corresponding measures” pending the results of the probe.

The victim was identified only by her last name, Park. Kim said she had left her room at 4:30 a.m. local time, and was shot around 5 a.m. Her body was moved to a hospital in the South Korean city of Sokcho.

Park was shot twice from behind, said hospital official Cho Yong-seok. One bullet hit her in the chest, causing her death, and another shot struck her left hip, he said.

The North had informed Hyundai Asan about the shooting, but there has not yet been any communication from the North Korean government to Seoul officials about the death.

High-profile project
The resort on the peninsula’s eastern coast, which opened in 1998, is one of the most high-profile projects between the two Koreas.

Hyundai Asan operates the Diamond Mountain resort as a tourist enclave inside the communist North, complete with South Korean convenience stores and a duty-free shop selling luxury goods. The area is one of two North Korean tourist programs run by the company, which are the only sites inside the reclusive nation that are open to relatively free access by visitors.

There were no plans to suspend a separate tour program offering day trips to the North’s border city of Kaesong because of the shooting.

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About 1.9 million visitors, mostly South Koreans, have visited the site, including some 190,000 people this year, according to the Unification Ministry.

In March, the North opened the resort to tourists driving in private cars across the heavily armed border dividing the Koreas.

Tourists at the resort are usually only allowed to wander freely in specified areas and are under strict control, with green fences separating the zone from the rest of the country. For hiking trips on the mountain, tour groups are taken by bus to trails lined by North Korean monitors.

The resort is in a heavily militarized area near the tense border between the Koreas, the world’s last Cold War frontier. On the road to the resort, mobile rocket launchers dot the hillsides and the coast has been home to a major North Korean naval base.

The two Koreas remain technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a cease-fire. However, they have made strides in reconciliation since the first-ever summit in 2000 between leaders of the North and South.

Relations have chilled since South Korea’s new President Lee took office with a tougher policy on the North.

'Full dialogue ... must resume'
However, Lee proposed Friday a resumption of dialogue between the Koreas and said he would respect earlier agreements from North-South summits, a softening of his earlier stance.

“Full dialogue between the two Koreas must resume,” Lee said told the opening session of parliament. “The South Korean government is willing to engage in serious consultations on how to implement” the summit deals and other previous agreements between the two sides, he said.

Lee also said he is “ready to cooperate in efforts to help relieve the food shortage in the North as well as alleviate the pain of the North Korean people.”

International agencies have warned that North Korea is facing its worst food shortages in years due to severe floods last year. The shortages were aggravated by the lack of assistance from South Korea amid stalled relations. Lee’s predecessors regularly sent food across the heavily armed border.

The South Korean president also urged the North to resolve humanitarian issues such as resuming reunions of families separated between the Koreas, and also allowing hundreds of South Korean POWs and civilians believed to be held in the North to return home.

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