N Korea provokes war fears by sinking ship
THE sinking of a South Korean naval ship was caused by a North Korean torpedo, news agency Yonhap claimed yesterday. The announcement will add to pressure on Lee Myung Bak, the South Korean president, to respond to what would be one of the worst acts of military provocation since the Korean War.
The Defence Ministry declined to comment on the Yonhap report, the latest of several suggesting that the sinking of the corvette 'Cheonan' on March 26 was a deliberate and unprovoked attack. A total of 46 sailors are dead or missing after an explosion cut the 1,200-tonne vessel in two off Baengnyeong Island, close to the disputed sea border between the rivals.
Mr Lee's government appears to be struggling to find an appropriate response that will demonstrate its resolve in the face of aggression, but stop short of triggering a war.
"Military intelligence made the report immediately after the sinking of the 'Cheonan' that it is clearly the work of North Korea's military," an unnamed military source was quoted as telling Yonhap. "North Korean submarines are all armed with heavy torpedoes with 200kg warheads. It is the military intelligence's assessment that the North attacked with a heavy torpedo."
A separate report suggested that the ship was sunk in a suicide mission, with a manned, midget submarine exploding after being steered under the ship's hull.
Another newspaper suggested the attack was in retaliation for a naval skirmish in November, in which a handful of North Korean sailors are believed to have been killed after an exchange of fire with South Korea's more modern navy.
"Military authorities detected several signs showing that the North was preparing for revenge for its defeat in the sea skirmish in November last year," an unnamed government official was quoted as saying. "The North intensively trained military units for various means of attack, in particular human torpedoes."
Mr Lee's conservative government prides itself on taking a tough attitude to North Korean aggression, in contrast to its liberal predecessors. "If they fire two bullets at us, we will fire three or four back," a government official said last year.
A month after the sinking of Cheonan, however, Mr Lee has yet to find a response that will both satisfy public opinion and preserve peace. (©The Times, London)