South Korea has suspended a high profile tourist program to North Korea after a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean woman on holiday at the special tourism enclave. The woman was apparently intruding in a restricted area off limits to South Korean visitors. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, the shooting took place just hours before a speech by the South Korean president calling for reconciliation with Pyongyang.
Doctors say South Korean tourist Park Wang-ja, a 53 year-old female, was fatally shot in the chest and leg by a North Korean soldier Friday in the North's Kumggang Mountain resort area.
South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun says the woman was apparently trespassing in an off-limits area.
He says the Hyundai Asan corporation, which runs the tourism area, informed the ministry Park was shot after entering a military-only zone. He says the South Korean government is very sorry about the incident. The South Korean official later said the tourist program had been suspended.
The Kumgangsan tourism zone was launched in 1998. It was built and is managed entirely by South Korea, and has been celebrated as one of the successes of South Korean engagement with the reclusive North.
Visitors to the zone are limited to clearly marked areas, and permitted no contact with nearby North Korean villages. Checkpoints, fences, and barbed wire are in abundance to ensure separation.
Details of Park's shooting are unclear at this point, including whether she knew she was trespassing, and how much warning she did or did not receive before being shot. All current visitors to the zone are expected to return to South Korea by Saturday.
For South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, the shooting could hardly have come at a more ironic time. Mr. Lee addressed the South Korean parliament Friday, calling for a new chapter in North-South relations.
Mr. Lee told lawmakers full dialogue between the two Koreas must resume. He says the South Korean government is willing to engage in serious consultations on how to implement past summit deals, and cooperate in relieving the North's food shortages.
North Korea has repeated called President Lee a "traitor" after he linked humanitarian aid to the North to progress on getting rid of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.
Mr. Lee, already suffering from low popularity related to negotiations over U.S. beef imports, may face more criticism for making the North Korea speech within hours of the shooting without mentioning it at all.