Posted July. 25, 2008 08:53,
Some 157 members of the Presbyterian Church of Korea were found to have visited Pyongyang from July 15 to 17 after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier, contradicting the governments plan to restrict private organizations mass visit to North Korea starting August.
A controversy has erupted accordingly, as some groups, whose August trips to the North to be frustrated, took issue with the fairness of the governments permission.
The group of tourists, led by Kim Yeong-tae, chairman of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, boarded a North Korean airplane at Gimpo Airport. The airplane directly flew them to Pyongyang. They returned home on July 18 after a church dedication ceremony at Bongsu Church in downtown Pyongyang. The Presbyterian Church of Korea has been helping the church be refurbished since 2005.
An official of the Presbyterian Church said, Due to the shooting death at Mount Geumgang, the Unification Ministry troubled over the permission of our trip to Pyongyang. But the ministry finally gave us the green light on the eve of the departure date.
On this, an official of the ministry explained, We allowed them to go because Arirang performance was not held at the time, and the purpose of the trip was to hold a church dedication ceremony.
But a private organization staff claimed, If the government wants to avoid the accusation for unfairness, it should allow group visits to the North even after August that are deemed necessary projects for inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation.
Given tours to Gaesong is still allowed, the ban on group visits to Pyongyang on the concern over the safety of tourists is not convincing, he added.