- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2008

SEOUL | A North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist Friday at a mountain resort in the communist north, prompting the South to suspend the high-profile tour program just as the new South Korean president sought to relax strained ties between the two countries.

News of the shooting of a 53-year-old woman at Diamond Mountain resort emerged just hours after President Lee Myung-bak delivered a nationwide address calling for restored contacts between the two Koreas, which have been on hold since he took office in February.

The woman had been ordered to halt after entering a military area early Friday at the resort, and tried to run away before North Korean soldiers opened fire, said South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon, quoting information given by the South Korean company that operates the resort, Hyundai Asan.

Mr. Kim said South Korea would suspend future Diamond Mountain tours until it completes an investigation of the incident.

The resort on the peninsula’s east coast, which opened in 1998, is one of the most high-profile projects between the two Koreas.

Hyundai Asan operates the Diamond Mountain resort as a tourist enclave inside the communist North, complete with South Korean convenience stores and a duty-free shop selling luxury goods.

About 1.9 million visitors, mostly South Koreans, have visited the site, including some 190,000 people this year, according to the Unification Ministry.

The two Koreas remain technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a cease-fire. However, they have made strides in reconciliation since the first-ever summit in 2000 between leaders of the North and South.

Relations have chilled since South Korea’s new president took office with a tougher policy on the North.

However, Mr. Lee proposed Friday a resumption of dialogue between the Koreas and said he would respect earlier agreements from North-South summits, a softening of his earlier stance.

“Full dialogue between the two Koreas must resume,” Mr. Lee told the opening session of parliament.

“The South Korean government is willing to engage in serious consultations on how to implement” the summit deals and other previous agreements between the two sides, he said.

Mr. Lee also said he is “ready to cooperate in efforts to help relieve the food shortage in the North as well as alleviate the pain of the North Korean people.”

International agencies have warned that North Korea is facing its worst food shortages in years as a result of severe floods last year. The shortages were aggravated by the lack of assistance from South Korea during stalled relations. Mr. Lee’s predecessors regularly sent food across the heavily armed border.

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