North Korea threatens an 'all-out war' against South
NORTH Korea defied worldwide condemnation yesterday over the unprovoked sinking of a South Korean warship and pledged "all-out war" if any retaliation was taken.
In the most serious attack for more than 20 years, a North Korean torpedo was found to have been responsible for sinking the Cheonan, a 300ft corvette that was attacked on March 26 with the loss of 46 lives.
An official report, carried out by South Korean investigators with teams from the US, Britain, Australia and Sweden, said the evidence pointed "overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine".
It added: "There is no other plausible explanation."
Yoon Duk-yong, the chief investigator, said pieces of the torpedo "perfectly match" the schematics of a torpedo that the North Koreans had tried to sell abroad.
A serial number on one fragment was consistent with markings from a North Korean torpedo that Seoul obtained years earlier, he said. South Korea promised "resolute counter-measures" against the North and was likely to appeal to the United Nations for further sanctions.
US President Barack Obama offered his "strong and unequivocal" support to Lee Myung-bak, his South Korean counterpart.
Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said the attack "constitutes a challenge to international peace and security".
"This act of aggression is one more instance of North Korea's unacceptable behaviour and defiance of international law," he said.
Britain, Japan and Australia joined the chorus of condemnation. William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, said North Korea had a "total indifference to human life and international obligations".
However, North Korea strongly denied responsibility for the attack, calling the investigation a "fabrication orchestrated by traitors".
It said it would "promptly" react to any retaliation and further sanctions with "various forms of tough measures, including an all-out war".
In recent weeks, North Korea has begun massing troops on the border with the South.
North Korean army sources claimed that the Cheonan was sunk in response to a naval skirmish last year in which a North Korean patrol boat had to retreat in flames. "Kim Jong-il gave an order to take revenge," the source said.
China, the last major ally of Pyongyang, gave a cautious response. It said that all parties should "remain calm" and that it would conduct its own "assessment" of the findings.
"South Korea's submission of its report to the UN will clearly force China into making a stance and this will be a challenge," said Zhang Liangui, a North Korean expert at the Central Party School in Beijing, where Communist Party leaders are trained.
"My view is that China, in accordance with its rising status as a major country, should not go against the rest of the world, but should consider its interests in line with the majority."
In Seoul, the long weeks of mourning since the attack and the personal stories of the young men who lost their lives have deepened the sense of outrage, putting pressure on the government to respond.
However, military retaliation against North Korea seems to have been ruled out already.
"Nobody wants a war on the Korean peninsula and the truth is that it is not easy to take revenge after the event," said Choi Jong-min, whose brother-in-law, petty officer first class Jo Jin-young, was among the dead.
South Korea has called an emergency meeting of its national security council to discuss its options. (© Daily Telegraph, London)