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Tourist Shooting Might Have Been Deliberate, Probe Suggests

Tourist Shooting Might Have Been Deliberate, Probe Suggests

Posted August. 02, 2008 15:36,   


An investigation team probing the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in North Korea yesterday presented two “scientific inferences” that contradict Pyongyang’s explanation of the incident.

A simulation showed that Park Wang-ja was shot within 100 meters after being aimed at, and that she either stopped or was slowly walking when shot. Though the team declined to give a definite answer, speculation is rising that a North Korean soldier deliberately killed Park.

▽ Simulation results

Investigators carried out simulations Wednesday and Thursday on a beach in Goseong County, Gangwon Province, because of its resemblance to the scene of the incident. A 50 year-old woman with a physical condition similar to Park’s, a dummy and an AK-74 rifle, the weapon type used in the killing, were used in the simulations.

The team found two pieces of evidence indicating that the soldier aimed and fired at Park less than 100 meters away. First, the accuracy of the shooter - two of the three bullets fired hit Park’s buttocks and back – meant the shooter would have been no more than 100 meters away from her at the time of shooting if he fired from a benchrest position.

If the soldier fired standing while chasing Park, whom Pyongyang says tried to escape, the realistic distance between the two would have been about 60 meters.

Based on an autopsy and the condition of her clothes, Park was probably standing or walking when shot since the bullet wounds were parallel to the ground. In addition, the shirt she wore on top of a one-piece dress showed traces of gunfire, indicating that she was not running at the time.

“If Park was running, the traces would’ve been blown away, leaving no traces of gunfire on the shirt,” said Kim Dong-hwan, a senior firearms researcher at the National Institute of Scientific Investigation in Seoul.

▽ Circumstantial evidence suggests deliberate firing

Park’s body was found to have a wound near the thigh in the July 11 autopsy on the day of her death. Investigators said a bullet possibly stroked the sand near her feet, causing a piece of seashell or rock to hit her.

“Park stopped when she realized that her thigh was hit. She might have been shot in the buttocks and back after that,” Kim said. If the assumption is true, the soldier deliberately fired and killed her, even though he was able to catch Park, who stopped moving.

The new evidence contradicts the North’s version of the event delivered by Hyundai Asan. “The sentry even fired blanks and demanded that she stop. He had no choice but to fire because she kept running away,” said an official of the North`s Guidance Bureau for Comprehensive Development of Scenic Spots in a July 12 meeting.

Hyundai Asan delivered the North’s story after CEO Yoon Man-joon returned from the communist country July 16.

“The North Korean soldier was running on damp, soft sand, while Park was running on a relatively harder area of the beach,” he said. “The soldier had to shoot as the distance between the two was widening.”

▽ Crime scene investigation a must

On if the shooting was accidental or deliberate, one investigator said, “What is certain is that the soldier precisely knew the target’s movement.”

The deliberateness of the shooting is heavily related to how far Park traveled in the restricted military zone, when her body was discovered, and measures taken before the shooting.

Pyongyang’s version of the shooting is not backed by objective evidence. The North said Park took about 31 minutes to go 800 meters into the military zone and ran for 500 meters before she was shot.

No scientific conclusion can be made, however, since Pyongyang refuses to allow Seoul to send investigators to the crime scene. The only concrete evidence is that Park left the hotel at 4:18 a.m. and died 58 minutes later.

“The North refuses to allow South Korean investigators to examine the crime scene,” one North Korea expert in Seoul said. “It shows the North is hiding something disadvantageous to it.”

kyle@donga.com dawn@donga.com