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New Suspicions Arise Over Shooting Incident

Posted July. 22, 2008 09:07,   

한국어

The recent Mount Geumgang shooting incident has put on a new face when South Korean intelligence authorities revealed a piece of information indicating that the North Korean soldier responsible for the death of a South Korean tourist may be a 17-year-old female soldier.

The information, if confirmed to be true, will be a key to determining whether the shooting down of the victim, Park Wang-ja, was “intentional” or “accidental,” the case’s biggest question mark.

North Korean officials recently followed one after another in expressing their perplexity regarding the incident, and fell over themselves to invite a horde of South Korean civic groups in August. These recent moves by the North have led some to believe that the North Korean authorities have somehow changed its stance towards the South.

▽ Evidence to North Korea’s shift in stance

Regarding the information reported by the Dong-A Ilbo that the government authorities indicated the shooter may be a 17-year-old female soldier, a South Korean government official said, “We have also obtained the same piece of information and we are now verifying whether it is reliable.”

An American source who recently met with North Korean officials in China and a working-level official at a South Korean civic group also said, “North Korean authorities told us that the shooter was a ‘very young’ person.”

The source added, “North Korean authorities told us that the incident equally took them aback. They added that especially at a time when the South Korean authorities are anxious to give them 50,000 tons of corn, those who thought the incident was intentional simply do not know anything about their regime.”

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyun also confirmed the Dong-A Ilbo’s report that North Korea invited a large group of South Korean visitors to Mount Baekdu and Pyongyang.

The Korean Teachers and Educational Worker’s Union, the Jogye Buddhist Order and Good Neighbors International are now pushing for a mass visit to North Korea in August. A government official said, “Most civic groups usually make their visits to the North in August, making it a busy month. What is different this year is that North Korea has shown more enthusiasm than usual.”

▽ Speculations surrounding North Korea’s intentions

One possible interpretation of the North’s recent move would be that senior North Korean officials decided to promptly quell domestic and international criticisms surrounding the latest incident, and expand people-to-people exchanges between the two Koreas after August.

Seo Jae-jin, head of the North Korea research team at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said, “North Korea’s response proves that South Korea’s hard-line measures against the North undertaken after the incident yielded results. The cash-stricken regime, desperate for every penny, is making an attempt to prevent further deterioration in the North-South relations so as to stop the South Korean government from considering the suspension of the Gaeseong tour.”

North Korean leaders may have also realized that dragging their feet with the incident may fuel further criticisms from South Korea and the international community, which may work against the regime in the U.S.-North nuclear negotiations and the launch of the third phase of Kim Jong Il’s rule in September.

Meanwhile, South Korean authorities have directed their attention to the fact that the shooter may be a female. A government official said, “If the information proves to true, it may reflect North Korea’s intention to label the incident as an `accident` by asserting that `a young woman incidentally gunned down the victim.`"

Of course, South Korean authorities cannot rule out the possibility that the North had distributed false information. A former North Korean official who defected from the North said, “There may be a female communication soldier in the unit stationed in Mount Geumgang, if there is any female soldier. Moreover, the regime would never order a newly-enlisted female soldier to guard a post early in the morning.”

Even in that case, the analysis that North Korea openly expressed its commitment to a prompt conclusion of the incident still holds valid.



kyle@donga.com