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South Korea says probe points to North in sinking of ship; Pyongyang denies involvement

South Korea says North Korea is responsible for the torpedo attack that killed 46 sailors aboard the Cheonan in March.

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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 20, 2010; 8:40 AM

SEOUL -- South Korea said Thursday that an international investigation has found overwhelming evidence that one of its warships was sunk by a torpedo made in North Korea and that the weapon was fired by a North Korean submarine.

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"There is no other plausible explanation" for the sinking of the Cheonan on March 26 near a disputed sea border between the two Koreas, said the report. It was based on the findings of 50 experts from South Korea who worked with 24 investigators from the United States, Australia, Britain and Sweden.

After the results of the investigation were released, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said his country "will take resolute countermeasures against North Korea and make it admit its wrongdoing through strong international cooperation."

Lee made the statement in a phone conversation with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd but did not specify what countermeasures the South would take against the heavily armed and unpredictable government of leader Kim Jong Il.

Most analysts say the only realistic options available to South Korea are pushing for increased international isolation of the North and cutting back on inter-Korean trade, which has already seen a dramatic decline in the two years since Lee has been in power.

North Korea immediately denounced the investigation as a "sheer fabrication" and accused the South of "pointing a dirty finger at us like a thief." It added that if there is any retaliation or punishment of the North, it will respond with "various forms of tough measures including all-out war."

The North also said it wanted to send its own investigators to South Korea to examine evidence -- a prospect that South Korean officials said was possible under the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.

The international investigation, details of which have been dribbling out this week, is certain to lead to a sustained effort by South Korea, the United States and Japan to seek punitive action against North Korea by the U.N. Security Council. "This act of aggression is one more instance of North Korea's unacceptable behavior and defiance of international law," the White House said late Wednesday.

The report said that investigators had confirmed that "a few small submarines and a mother ship" had left a North Korean naval base two to three days before the attack on the Cheonan and returned to port two to three days later.

It also found that torpedo parts recovered at the explosion site "perfectly match" schematics of a North Korean-made torpedo that the Pyongyang government has offered to sell to foreign countries.

The exploded torpedo was fired by a midget submarine, equipped with night-vision technology, that approached the Cheonan from international waters to ensure "the covertness" of the attack, South Korean Rear Adm. Hwang Won-dong said Thursday. Speaking at a news conference held to elaborate on the findings, he said the midget submarine fled the scene following the same route.

Investigators collected parts that were marked with Korean writing, the report said, and the markings were "consistent with the marking of a previously obtained North Korean torpedo," which allowed the investigators to "confirm that the recovered parts were made in North Korea."


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