AP source: South Korea to lay out proof Pyongyang fired torpedo to sink South Korean navy ship

By Lolita C. Baldor, AP
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

AP source: Seoul to show proof Pyongyang sank ship

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will lay out evidence Thursday proving that North Korea fired a torpedo that sank one of the South’s warships in March, killing 46 sailors, a U.S. official said.

Seoul has so far refrained from naming Pyongyang as the culprit behind the downing of the Cheonan in what would be one of the most serious attacks on South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War.

However, Thursday’s report will point the finger at Pyongyang, showing that a North Korean torpedo attack triggered the explosion that sank the Cheonan near the Koreas’ tense western sea border, the U.S. official said in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Diplomatic discussions were already under way Wednesday in Seoul and in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met privately late Tuesday with envoys Stephen Bosworth and Sung Kim, while South Korea’s Foreign Ministry briefed foreign ambassadors in Seoul on Wednesday.

North Korea has denied involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan.

However, investigators have collected damning evidence pointing to Pyongyang’s involvement in the blast that blew the 1,200-ton warship apart during a routine patrolling mission in the Yellow Sea, local media said.

Fragments of a torpedo propeller found near the disaster site are similar to parts from a North Korean torpedo that South Korea obtained seven years ago, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday, citing unidentified government officials.

A serial number on the torpedo propeller was written in a font typically used in North Korea, and traces of explosives found in the wreckage resemble the gunpowder used in the North Korean torpedo retrieved in 2003, the paper said.

The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report, saying an 85-ton North Korean submersible is believed to have torpedoed the vessel. Citing an unidentified government official, the report said the conclusion was based on intelligence on the movement of North Korean submersibles and analyses of intercepted North Korean military communication.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it could not confirm the reports.

President Lee Myung-bak has vowed stern action against the culprits. He discussed the matter with President Barack Obama by phone Monday, officials said.

Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan has said South Korea would consider taking Pyongyang to the U.N. Security Council if the North is found responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan.

The investigation results and concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program are expected to dominate Clinton’s talks this week and next with leaders in Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul, where she will finish her Asian trip next Wednesday.

The two Koreas remain locked in a state of war and divided by the world’s most heavily guarded border because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

However, North Korea disputes the maritime border drawn by the U.N. in 1953, and the western waters have been the site of several deadly naval clashes since 1999.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said North Korea must “cease provocative acts, cease acts of aggression that destabilize the region” and urged the North to follow through on past commitments to abandon its nuclear programs.

The United States had pushed the North to return to stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, but U.S. officials have said the findings of the ship sinking investigation will be a major factor in whether those talks resume.

Lolita C. Baldor reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Foster Klug in Washington also contributed to this report.

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