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North Korea Refutes Evidence on S. Korean Warship Sinking

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has refuted South Korea's accusation that it sank one of its warships in March in a torpedo attack, a conclusion drawn by an international group of investigators.

   But South Korea rebutted North Korea's claims of flaws in the multinational investigation that found the North responsible for the sinking of the 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan and urged Pyongyang to come clean on the deadly attack that killed 46 sailors. South Korea is also lobbying for support for U.N. action against the North.

   North Korea held a mass rally attended by as many as 100,000 people on May 30 in its capital, Pyongyang, to denounce Seoul for implicating it in the incident.

   The North's socialist regime often organizes such mass rallies when it seeks to consolidate internal unity during times of difficulty in relations with foreign countries.

   On May 28, North Korea held a rare news conference in Pyongyang, claiming that the South Korean-led five-nation investigation into the ship sinking had a number of serious flaws and rejecting its outcome as a "fabrication."

   Rejecting evidence showing it torpedoed the South Korean warship, the North said it does not even own a midget submarine, allegedly used for the March attack.

   The North's powerful National Defense Commission (NDC), chaired by leader Kim Jong-Il, held the rare press conference at the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang denouncing the "Lee Myung-bak group of traitors of South Korea for having recently kicked off a racket of confrontation with the DPRK (North Korea) after groundlessly linking the case of the sinking of warship 'Cheonan' with it."

   The news conference was attended by foreign reporters, representatives and military attaches of foreign embassies and representatives of international organizations in Pyongyang, according to North Korean news media.

   Pak Rim-su, a major general of the Korean People's Army, criticized South Korea for "persistently refusing" the commission's request that the North conduct a field inspection to verify the South's assertion.

   Pak, also director of the policy department of the NDC, said the North does not have a 130-ton "Yeono (salmon)-class" submarine, which the South says torpedoed the warship in the Yellow Sea. "We don't have anything like a 130-ton Yeono-class submersible," Pak was quoted by Pyongyang's main broadcasters as telling reporters.

   But South Korean officials say the North's submarine fleet includes around 10 such submarines. South Korean investigators said a Yeono class midget submarine had intruded into South Korean waters via international waters in the Yellow Sea.

   Pak said, "It does not make any sense militarily that a 130-ton submersible carrying a heavy 1.7-ton torpedo traveled through the open sea into the South, sank the ship and returned home."

   The South Korea's civilian-military joint investigation team announced on May 20 that the submarine left its base at night three days before the occurrence of the incident, approached the Cheonan after making a channel detour in the open sea, attacked the vessel and returned by the same course.

   Pak also rebutted Seoul's allegation that salvaged fragments of the torpedo matched design specifications that appeared on brochures the North allegedly sent to an unidentified potential buyer of North Korean torpedoes.

   "Who in the world would hand over torpedo designs while selling torpedoes?" he said.

   But an unidentified senior South Korean government official said that the South had gotten the brochures, which were sent by a North Korean state-run trading company to a potential weapons buyer and that contain design specifications of three types of torpedoes.

   North Korea also dismissed a serial number handwritten on a torpedo fragment reading "1 beon" or "No. 1" as a fabrication. Senior Colonel Ri Son-gwon said that "clearest piece of evidence" that the South has produced is this number in the "writing style of the North."

   "It is a matter of common sense to leave no clue in stealthy attack," he said. "Even south Korean experts, with doubt that the north left such a clue, are of the view that the number of the screw that allegedly remained unerased under the water for many days was not carved by a machine but handwritten with a blue felt-tip pen apparently some time ago."

   South Korea said the serial number handwritten in Korean was strong evidence of Pyongyang's involvement in the sinking. South Korean investigators said the North also uses "beon" for numbering things to be assembled, attributing the information to defectors from North Korea.

   "When we put serial numbers on weapons, we engrave them with machines," Ri said. "We use 'beon' only for football or basketball players," he said.

   On May 30, South Korea's Ministry of National Defense refuted the North's claims one by one, including one that the nation has no small-sized Yeono-class submarines.

   "We have confirmed that North Korea exported (such a submarine) to a specific Middle Eastern nation a few years ago," the ministry said in a release without identifying the importer. "We also have a photograph that shows a 130-ton submarine in North Korea."

   The North claims that the investigation team is comprised of nations sympathetic to allegations of North Korea's involvement.

   The South rejected the claim, saying the team also included experts from Sweden, a neutral nation. The South also rejected all other allegations from Pyongyang, including one that the regime never exported torpedoes provided with blueprints. The South said it has obtained a brochure of weapons that a North Korean export firm drew up and provided to an unidentified third nation.

   "As North Korea's claims have propaganda intentions, we don't even feel it's worth rebutting, but we are offering explanations as there could be misunderstanding," said Chang Kwang-il, deputy defense minister for policy.

   "North Korea should honestly acknowledge what it did, punish those responsible and promise the recurrence" of a similar provocation will not happen, he said.

   Analysts say the North is expected to intensify its propaganda activities refuting its involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan. Through the mass rallies across the country denouncing South Korea and the United States, the North is also trying to consolidate its internal unity among people now suffering from food shortages and economic difficulties.

   At the Pyongyang mass rally on May 30, Choe Yong-rim, chief secretary of the Pyongyang City Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, said in his report that inter-Korean relations have been driven into such a total collapse that a war may break out any moment on the Korean Peninsula.

   "The case of south Korea's warship sinking is an unpardonable treacherous and anti-reunification crime as it was the hideous charade and farce cooked up by the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors in collusion with the U.S. imperialists from A to Z," he pointed out.

   "This is a conspiratorial plot intended to tide over the serious ruling crisis caused by the total failure of the group's domestic and foreign policies, turn the 'elections to local self-governing bodies' favorable for it and thus maintain its fascist rule and push the inter-Korean relations into catastrophe," he said.