N. Korea blames South for death of tourist

Image: Diamond Mountain in North Korea
South Korean tourists take photos at the Diamond Mountain in North Korea in June 2007.Ahn Young-joon / AP FILE
/ Source: The Associated Press

North Korea said South Korea was to blame for the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the nation, demanding an apology Saturday and saying it would ban visits to a mountain resort where Seoul has already suspended tours since the killing.

The North also rejected a South Korean request for investigators to visit the scene of Friday’s shooting, claiming it has already clarified what happened with the South Korean tour company that runs the trips to the mountain on the peninsula’s eastern coast.

Pyongyang’s stance was certain to exacerbate tensions between the Koreas, which have flared since South Korea’s new conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in February.

Earlier on Saturday, Lee denounced the killing of 53-year-old housewife Park Wang-ja and urged the North to cooperate in the investigation.

“What cannot and should not happen has happened,” Lee told a security ministers’ meeting, according to his office.

“I can’t understand that they shot a civilian tourist” at a time of the day when it is possible to discern she is a civilian, Lee said. He also urged Pyongyang to “actively cooperate” in an investigation.

But in the statement from a North Korean tourism bureau, Pyongyang said the tourist “intruded deep into the area under the military control of the North side all alone at dawn,” noting that even her “shoes got wet.”

‘Responsibility ... rests with the South side’
The North said its soldier spotted the tourist and ordered her to stop, but that she ran away. The soldier “repeatedly shouted” at her to stop and fired warning shots, but then “could not but open fire” at the woman, according to the statement from the Guidance Bureau for Comprehensive Development of Scenic Spots.

“The responsibility for the incident entirely rests with the South side,” the bureau said in the statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The statement called for Seoul to apologize and take measures to prevent it from happening again.

Other tourists witnessed shooting
Yonhap news agency cited a tourist who returned from the resort Friday as saying he saw a middle-aged woman dressed in black walking along the beach before hearing two gunshots and a scream about 10 minutes later.

“When I looked at the direction where the gunshots were heard, there was one person collapsed and three soldiers ran out of a forest and touched the person with their feet as if trying to see if that person is alive,” Yonhap quoted 23-year-old Lee In-bok, a college student, as saying.

Lee told Yonhap that he and five others witnessed the incident while at the beach to watch the sunrise and that they were about 300 meters away.

Park’s husband, Bang Young-min, 53, said he hopes for the truth of what happened.

“I hope all suspicions would be resolved ... so that the souls of the deceased can rest in peace,” he said at a hospital in Seoul where Park’s body was kept for a funeral.