12 Jul 2008

South Koreans leave resort in North after shooting

8:24 pm on 12 July 2008

Hundreds of South Korean tourists left a mountain resort in the North on Saturday, a day after a North Korean soldier shot and killed a woman who wandered into a military zone in the area.

The incident comes as ties between the states, technically still at war, chilled in recent months and South Korea's new president, who has advocated taking a tough line with Pyongyang, repeated calls for dialogue.

South Korea has now suspended tourism to the Mount Kumgang resort, located a few kilometres north of the heavily fortified border on the east coast.

The South Korean affiliate of the Hyundai Group that runs the resort has been shuttling tourists back to the South since Friday.

Medical authorities said the victim, Park Wang-ja, 53, was shot once in the chest and once in her buttocks.

She is the first South Korean tourist to be killed by a North Korean, a government official said.

Ms Park, the wife of a retired policeman, had left her hotel to watch the sunrise over the sea, fellow travellers told local media.

She had apparently strayed past fenced-off resort grounds and was shot by a North Korean sentry before dawn on Friday when she entered the military zone, South Korean government officials said.

South Korea is conducting an investigation and looking into North Korean claims that a sentry shouted at Ms Park to halt, and fired a warning shot before shooting the housewife.

A South Korean Unification Ministry official said North Korea has shown little interest in cooperating in the investigation.

Popular resort

The North Korean resort, opened in 1998, has been visited by almost two million South Koreans.

The resort has hotels, stores, a golf course and a spa staffed by North Koreans. There is also a heavy North Korean military presence in the area, which has been a key naval zone for the reclusive state.

The resort has supplied hundreds of millions of dollars to impoverished North Korea with tourists paying a fee to enter the country and the communist state taking a cut on food, lodging and recreation expenses paid by tourists.