SEOUL (Reuters) - A North Korean soldier gunned down a 53-year-old South Korean woman tourist who wandered into a military area at a mountain resort in the North in the predawn hours of Friday, a South Korean official said.
The woman identified by her family name Park, was killed in an incident that comes as ties between the two states have chilled since a new South Korean president took office in February promising to get tough with Pyongyang.
Park was strolling on a beach and entered a fenced-off North Korean military area near the Mount Kumgang resort, just north of the border on the east coast, and was shot in her torso and leg by a sentry, the official said.
South Korea will halt tourism to the resort from Saturday, Unification Ministry official Kim Ho-nyoun told a news conference.
“We expect the North to take appropriate actions, as this is a regrettable incident,” Kim said. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak also called the incident “regrettable.”
The resort, opened in 1998, is run by an affiliate of South Korea’s Hyundai Group and has been visited by more than a million South Koreans.
Park is the first South Korean tourist killed by a North Korea since Kumgang opened and the first South Korean shot dead since a deadly naval skirmish in the Yellow Sea in June 2002 that killed North and South Korean sailors, the ministry said.
“(The ministry) needs to confirm reports of whether the women climbed the fence,” Kim said.
The fenced-off 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.
MONEY MAKER FOR NORTH KOREA
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.
Local media said about 13,000 tourists currently at Kumgang will start returning home from Friday night.
The idea behind Kumgang was to have it serve as a centre where North and South Koreans could interact in the mountainous area by the sea that is abundant in natural beauty.
When conversations turn to politics, North Koreans quickly recite phrases supplied to them by communist party minders who make sure they do not become too friendly with the visitors.
Built at a cost of more than $1 billion, it has only been in recent years that Kumgang has turned a profit.
Before the incident was announced on Friday, Lee Myung-bak, who took office in February, repeated a call to the North to return to inter-Korean discussions.
Pyongyang has called Lee “a traitor to the nation” for cutting off what had been a free flow of aid and seeking to tie Seoul’s largesse to progress the North makes in nuclear disarmament.
In April, North Korea said it was cutting off dialogue with its wealthy neighbor despite Lee’s calls to tone down heated rhetoric and get back to serious talks.
Editing by David Fox
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.