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(3rd LD) N. Korea to eject S. Koreans from resort

All Headlines 16:40 August 03, 2008

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead to update with S. Korean response; TRIMS throughout)
By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Aug. 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Sunday it will expel South Korean personnel from a South-run mountain resort in the communist country, further souring the already tense bilateral relations. Seoul expressed regret at the move, describing it as "incomprehensible."

North Korea's official media said earlier in the day that Pyongyang will expel all "unnecessary" South Korean personnel from the Mount Geumgang resort, where a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier last month.

"We will expel all the persons of the south side staying in the Mt. Kumgang tourist area we deem unnecessary," an unnamed North Korean spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency earlier Sunday.

More than 260 South Korean workers are stationed at the scenic resort, according to Hyundai Asan, the South Korean tour organizer.

"We will take strong military counter-actions against even the slightest hostile actions in the tourist resort," the spokesman added, accusing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of using the shooting incident to drive "the frozen inter-Korean relations to a catastrophic phase."

The announcement came as the South struggled to pressure its communist neighbor into cooperating in its investigation into the July 11 shooting death of 53-year-old South Korean housewife Park Wang-ja.

Park was gunned down on a beach at the resort after she took an early morning stroll and strayed into a military area. The incident raised tensions between the two divided states, and prompted Seoul to suspend the tours that began 10 years ago in a reconciliation effort.

Slamming the North's abrupt announcement, the South's Unification Ministry, which handles Seoul's North Korean policy, said it is incomprehensible.

"We regret that North Korea is taking measures that cannot be understood, even as it refuses to cooperate in the probe," the South's Unification Ministry said in a statement accredited to its spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun.

"The incident is wrong from anyone's perspective, and also for the sake of inter-Korean relations and international norms," the statement said, referring to the killing.

Rapprochement talks between the two countries, which fought the 1950-53 Korean War, halted after Lee took office in Seoul in February and Pyongyang reacting vehemently to his hardline North Korean policy.

North Korea expelled South Korean officials from the joint industrial complex in its border city of Kaesong in March, and has rejected South Korean aid offers to help relieve its chronic food shortages.

The South Korean government "is working hard to lay the blame for the incident at the door of our side," the statement said, blaming Park for her own death and defending its soldier's actions.

"The tourist met death due to the tourist's own mistake," it said. "The soldier who was on combat duty at that time asked the intruder to stop several times."

"Defying this, the intruder ran away so quickly that the soldier was compelled to open fire," it said, arguing that pre-dawn visibility prevented the guard from immediately identifying the tourist.

The statement ran counter to the initial findings by South Korea, which suggested that the shooting took place when sunlight was sufficient to identify the victim.

The spokesman also claimed Park was first spotted about 800 meters into the fenced-off area and ran back "hurriedly" despite warnings to stop, adding the North plans to tighten borderline access to South Koreans.

South and North Korea technically remain at war, as their fratricidal war ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.

samkim@yna.co.kr
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