NKorea warns of military response on ship sinking
UNITED NATIONS—North Korea warned Tuesday that its military forces will respond if the U.N. Security Council questions or condemns the country over the sinking of a South Korean navy ship, which it vehemently denies.
At a rare news conference, North Korea's U.N. Ambassador Sin Son Ho demanded that a military investigation team from North Korea be permitted to go to the site of the sinking to verify the result of a South Korean probe "in an objective and scientific way," which the South has refused to allow.
He said there is "a touch and go situation that a war may break out any time ... on the Korean peninsula due to the reckless military maneuvers of South Korea," which has accused the North of torpedoing the ship and is seeking U.N. action to punish it.
Sin called the accusation against North Korea "a farce concocted by the U.S. and South Korea in pursuit of their political purposes" and accused the South of fabricating the results of its investigation "from A to Z."
If the North Korean inspection team visits the site, Sin said, "everything will be clarified."
The ambassador said North Korea wasn't accusing anyone of sinking the 1,200-ton Cheonan on March 26, which claimed the lives of 46 South Korean sailors. He reiterated his government's claim that the corvette was grounded, noting that the area where it sank has "a lot of rocks."
The ambassador called the news conference a day after North Korea and South Korea made separate presentations to the Security Council on the ship sinking.
The council said in a statement afterward that it is concerned the ship sinking could endanger peace on the Korean peninsula, and it urged Seoul and Pyongyang to refrain from any provocative acts.
The council did not say what action it might take in response, and Mexico's U.N. Ambassador Claude Heller, the current council president, reiterated Tuesday that consultations were still taking place among the 15 members.
Sin was asked how North Korea would respond if the Security Council imposed a third round of sanctions or issued a weaker presidential statement.
"If the Security Council release any documents against us condemning or questioning us in any document, then myself as (a) diplomat, I can do nothing -- but follow-up measures will be carried out by our military forces," the ambassador warned.
In a lengthy opening statement, Sin said the Security Council had already been besmirched in February 2003 due to then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's "lies" about Iraq. He was referring to Powell's presentation to the council making the case for war against Iraq that included evidence indicating Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons, which proved to be false.
"If the Security Council is again deceived by another lie and tackles this case unfairly, thus failing to prevent any conflict on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. and the Security Council shall bear the full responsibility for the subsequent consequences," Sin warned.
Asked if North Korea would rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to any Security Council action, he said: "Nuclear weapons is our deterrent because we are always threatened by outside forces."
At Monday's informal council meeting, a team of South Korean military and intelligence officials and experts from the U.S., Australia, Britain, Sweden and Canada, explained evidence it said showed that the Cheonan was sunk by a torpedo launched by a North Korean midget submarine, said Yoon Duk-yong, co-chair of the team.
"We identified the torpedo as North Korean CHT02D on the basis of our recovered piece of that torpedo, which was the propulsion part including two propellers, a shaft, steering plates and a motor," he said.
Sin said that despite an extensive search by U.S. and South Korean warships after the sinking, "a fishing boat appeared all of a sudden and claimed it had collected a remnant of torpedo of 1.5 meter long by fishing net just five days before the release of the investigation on May 20."
He called this a "funny story" like those in "Aesop's Fables."
The ambassador questioned how the remnants of a torpedo that split the warship with high explosives could remain intact "without any deformation or bent." He said that if the North had launched an attack it wouldn't leave a marking on the torpedo propulsion in Korean script, and he said writing in blue marker on the remnant could not have survived the heat from the explosion.
South Korean officials familiar with the investigation said the 24-foot long (7.35-meter) torpedo did not hit the Cheonam but exploded 10-20 feet (3-6 meters) below the vessel, splitting it. The 6-foot (1.85 meter) section recovered was from its rear propulsion and the area with the Korean marking was preserved because it had a cover, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The officials said investigators initially used side-sonar to try to locate the torpedo but the water was very murky, with strong currents, and they reverted to using fishing boats with special nets which proved to be successful.
As for the claim that a North Korean mini-submarine was used in the attack, Sin said that on the day of the sinking the U.S.-South Korean joint military exercise "Foal Eagle" was in full swing with many warships from both countries engaged in anti-submarine, anti air and marine interdiction operations and underwater and air reconnaissance units were mobilized in the "waters of the sinking."
In these conditions, he said, it is doubtful that a small North Korean submarine attacked the Cheonan, which has anti-submarine capacity, "and it is also unconceivable that the U.S. and South Korean warships equipped with the state-of-the-art detective devices failed to detect the submarine."
The South Korean officials said the joint exercise was taking place 170 nautical miles south of the spot where the Cheonan sank, which is not far from North Korea.
Sin also questioned the credentials and participation of the experts in determining the results.
The ambassador said the United States was the main beneficiary of the sinking, hyping the "threat from North Korea" to get former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to reverse a campaign promise and allow the U.S. military to move to a new base in Okinawa and using the ship sinking to maintain its hold "on Japan and South Korea as its servants."
It also gave President Barack Obama's administration a "strong image before the Congress mid-term election" in November and provides justification for a massive arms deal for South Korea and for sending aircraft carriers to "a delicate area" for the security of North Korea and China, he said.
As for South Korea, he said blaming the North was designed to evade "responsibility for the deterioration of inter-Korean relations" by the conservative government which was making "a foolish attempt to drive a wedge between China and my country which have excellent relations."
Meanwhile on Tuesday, air raid sirens blared as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans donned gas masks Tuesday in a nationwide civil defense drill, as Seoul's defense chief said North Korea has bolstered its military readiness amid tensions over the sinking of a South Korean warship.
Although both Koreas have exchanged harsh rhetoric and increased their military vigilance in recent weeks, Seoul officials have said it is unlikely renewed tension would lead to all-out war.
The defense drill was the first on a nationwide scale for possible chemical, biological and radiological attacks since 1989, the National Emergency Management Agency said. It said the exercise was resumed in the aftermath of the ship sinking in March that South Korea blamed on North Korea. South Korea has taken punitive measures against North Korea, including trade restrictions, since the sinking.
Associated Press Writer Hyung-Jin Kim contributed to this report from Seoul.