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North Korea denies role in South Korean naval disaster

After weeks of silence, North Korea on Saturday denied any involvement in the mysterious sinking of a South Korean naval patrol boat.

The North’s state-run media lashed out at suggestions made by officials in Seoul that a North Korean torpedo struck the 1,200-ton Cheonan on March 26 as it cruised the tense sea border between North and South Korea.

So far, South Korea hasn’t directly pointed the finger at the North, but an investigator said Friday that an external explosion was the most likely cause of the sinking, which killed at least 38 crewmen.

In its usual bombastic tone, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted a military official as saying that the South was using the sinking for propaganda.

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“Failing to probe the cause of the sinking of the ship, the puppet military warmongers, right-wing conservative politicians and the group of other traitors in South Korea are now foolishly seeking to link the accident with the North at any cost,” the agency said.

Fifty-eight of the ship’s crew members were rescued as the ship went down. Last week, salvage workers pulled large parts of the ship to the surface, discovering 36 bodies inside. Two other bodies had been recovered earlier, leaving eight crew members still missing and believed dead.

On Saturday, North Korea expressed sympathy for the lost crewmen, but castigated the South’s military.

“Though the sunken large ship belongs to the South side, we have so far regarded the accident as a regretful accident that should not happen in the light of the fact that many missing persons and most of rescued members of the crew are fellow countrymen forced to live a tiresome life in the puppet army,” the release said.

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Chief South Korean investigator Yoon Duk-yong has ruled out any possibility that the ship struck a rock, instead saying that there was a “high possibility of an external explosion.”

South Korean officials have been criticized here for not releasing more information on the investigation, causing many to suspect a government coverup.

In a televised public statement, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young apologized that the “poor handling of some measures” had “caused distrust and suspicion among the public.”

“The government and the military view this incident as a grave situation of national security, while we are doing our best to deal with the situation,” Kim said.

john.glionna@latimes.com

Ju-min Park of The Times’ Seoul Bureau contributed to this report.


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