South Korea Says The North Torpedoed Its Ship

North and South Korea are trading warnings about the March sinking of a South Korean warship. The South says a multinational investigation shows the vessel was struck by a torpedo, and that there will be "stern actions." Pyongyang denies involvement and warns any retaliation would spark war.

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Today, South Korea formally accused North Korea of sinking one of its warships with a torpedo fired from a submarine. Forty-six South Korean sailors died in the attack two months ago. The incident is sure to be high on the agenda of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visits the region next week. From Seoul, Doualy Xaykaothao has more on the episode, which is raising tensions between the two countries.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: Foreign experts, including U.S. officials, joined South Korean investigators in determining now the Cheonan warship sank in late March. The team concluded that the 1,200 ton frigate was torn in half due to an underwater torpedo explosion. Air Force Brigadier General Han Won-dong(ph) says they confirmed that small submarines and a supporting mother ship left North Korea two days before the Cheonan was attacked.

Brigadier General HAN WON-DONG(South Korean air force): (Through translator) And although we have confirmed the fact that the submarine has left the base prior to the incident, we were not able to expect that the submarine was seaborne, was going to infiltrate our waters.

XAYKAOTHAO: Later, a dredging ship found torpedo parts at the site of the explosion, as well as metal shards and a propeller. �Dr. Li Yoon Duk(ph) is one of the investigators with the explosion analysis team.

Dr. LI YOON DUK (Co-head of investigation team): (Through translator) And based on these results, we're able to determine that the substances found in the propeller section and those found in the Cheonan were, in fact, identical substances.

XAYKAOTHAO: Identical to previous North Korean torpedo parts collected some years ago.

Dr. LI: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: Dr. Li went on to show a video simulation of how the torpedo was powerful enough to split the warship in half. The preliminary conclusions reached through analysis matched identically with what the charge size and placement would be from this torpedo, says U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Thomas Eccles. He is part of the investigative team that worked closely with the Republic of Korea.

Rear Admiral THOMAS ECCLES (U.S. Navy): So we were able, before the torpedo debris was found, to analyze the evidence with expert eyewitness and calculated and analytical methods. And in all of those we found agreement, both within the Republic of Korea and all of the international team.

XAYKAOTHAO: That agreement is that the evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine. There is no other plausible explanation, says South Korea's ministry of defense.

Right after South Korea announced its findings, the White House issued a statement agreeing that North Korea was responsible for this attack. It said, This act of aggression is one more instance of North Korea's unacceptable behavior and defiance of international law. This attack, the statement says, constitutes a challenge to international peace and security and is a violation of the Armistice Agreement.

But North Korea, in a statement today, denied its involvement and says it is offering to send an inspection team to Seoul. A statement from the North official state media called the results a fabrication and warned that any retaliation would spark a war.

Seoul now plans to take this matter to the United Nations. It also plans to reinforce antisubmarine measures by establishing a detection system in areas that are vulnerable to submarine infiltration.

For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao in Seoul.

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