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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 255 (March 28, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

S. Korea Urges N. Korea to Change on Cheonan Sinking Anniversary

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on March 26 mourned the 46 sailors who were killed in the sinking of the Cheonan warship in a torpedo attack by North Korea three years ago, with people across the country paying respects to those who perished and vowing to remember their sacrifices.

   Conservative organizations held press conferences and rallies to condemn the North Korean provocation while political parties vowed in chorus to make their best efforts to strengthen the nation's security posture. North Korea reiterated the claim that it is not tied to the sinking of the South Korean warship and repeated war threats.

   In a memorial service at the Daejeon National Cemetery where the bodies of the deceased soldiers are laid, President Park Geun-hye urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and take the path to change, saying that is the only way to ensure the country's survival.

   "As we mark the third anniversary of the Cheonan (sinking), I strongly urge North Korea to change," Park said.

   "North Korea must immediately abandon its thoughts that nuclear weapons will protect its regime," she said. "The only way North Korea will survive is if it voluntarily lays down its nuclear weapons, missiles, provocations and threats, and transforms into a responsible member of the international community."

   The Cheonan sinking killed all 46 Navy sailors on board and sharply escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula. A senior Navy diver also died a few days after the attack during underwater search operations. The victims have been buried at the national cemetery in Daejeon.

   The 1,200-ton Cheonan warship exploded and sank in the Yellow Sea on the night of March 26, 2010. A South Korean-led international investigation found that North Korea torpedoed the ship, though Pyongyang denied its involvement. The wreck of the warship Cheonan -- broken into two pieces and mangled by the explosion -- has been on display at the Second Fleet Headquarters in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul. About 560,000 people have visited the site to see the fate of the corvette, according to the Navy.

   Tensions have been running high again on the peninsula in recent weeks due to North Korea's repeated threats to wage war in anger over new U.N. sanctions for its latest nuclear test and last week's joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

   Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin called for the military to stay on high alert and be ready to strike back if North Korea attacks, saying the ability to strongly retaliate is the best deterrence against the communist country.

   "I still feel great pain when I think of the soldiers who died in the cold sea," Kim wrote in a letter to soldiers. "In light of the Cheonan incident, we once again realized North Korea's bellicosity and hostile attitude toward the South."

   The Navy has designated March 18-27 as a period of remembrance for the soldiers and has held various commemoration events across the nation. They also opened an online memorial website. Over 15,000 people have left consolatory messages on the site dedicated to honoring the soldiers and the Underwater Demolition Team Warrant Officer Han Joo-ho, who died during search operations.

   South Korea's 12 conservative organizations held a joint press conference and condemned North Korea for driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to a state of a war by scrapping the Armistice Agreement on the pretense of South Korea-U.S. joint exercises.

   They urged that South Korea should consolidate the South Korea-U.S. mutual defense treaty to strongly curb the North Korean military provocations -- like the sinking of the Cheonan -- and to prevent the recurrence of a war on the Korean Peninsula.

   Other organizations asserted in a separate press conference that the government should sternly punish those forces supporting North Korea by saying that the North has nothing to do with the Cheonan sinking.

   The ruling Saenuri Party and the first opposition Democratic United party began their official itineraries of the day by paying silent tribute to the victims of the Cheonan sinking and vowed efforts to strengthened national security.

   In Pyongyang, North Korea reiterated its "innocence" and said it will not tolerate any attempts to use the incident against the North.

   Rodong Sinmun claims, "The Cheonan warship sinking case, which claimed 46 lives, was a deliberate and planned plot choreographed by the U.S. and the south Korean authorities to plunge the north-south ties into a deadlock, stoke tensions on the Korean Peninsula and provoke a war of aggression."

   The newspaper further threatened the service personnel, and the people of the DPRK warned that it would wipe out the U.S. military bases in South Korea and the bases of "the U.S. imperialist aggressors in the Pacific operational theater if they dare make a slightest war move against the DPRK." The DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and is the North's official name.

   "Puppet regimes groundlessly linked the cause of the sinking of the navy vessel to us," Rodong Sinmun said, stressing that the Cheonan sank in the waters closely watched by South Korean military forces.

   The newspaper article said probe results by the multinational investigation team are "full of doubts," claiming that South Korea denied its proposal to open a joint investigation into the sinking.

   South Korea is fueling confrontation by using the sinking of the Cheonan as an opportunity to raise anti-North campaigns, the newspaper said, adding the South's "trumpeting of retaliation will soon become a tragic death march."

   Minju Joson, another newspaper published in Pyongyang, said earlier on March 24 that the South Korean navy designated March 26 as a "day of punishment" and that "the puppet forces" are pursuing a crafty ploy to cover up the truth behind the Cheonan sinking and shift the blame to the North.

   "The puppet forces will be held fully accountable for the extreme situation on the Korean Peninsula to be entailed by their 'punishment' racket over the warship case," the paper said.

   The deadly incident made South Koreans realize the dangers of North Korean attacks, especially after the North shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong in November 2010, killing two soldiers and two civilians.

   The maritime border, called the Northern Limit Line, is a flash point between the two Koreas where two deadly skirmishes took place -- once in 1999, and again in 2002.

   Despite steps taken and Seoul's repeated warnings that it will strike back hard if provoked in the future, the North is now showing signs it may be ready to provoke the South once again.

   Adm. Choi Yoon-hee, the Navy's chief, said Monday that the North could attack via sea if they are provoked, ordering servicemen to strongly retaliate in case of an attack.

   In response to the escalating risk of North Korean provocations following the sinking of the Cheonan, South Korea upgraded its defense capacities along the Yellow Sea border, deploying submarines and anti-torpedo weapons as well as an increased number of artillery shells on front-line islands.

   The preparations are viewed as necessary as the inter-Korean military tensions have risen to new highs as the North has repeatedly threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. and the South after the recent adoption of punitive U.N. resolutions and the joint military drills between the two allies.

   Since a series of North Korean provocations, militaries of South Korea and the U.S. have revised their joint operational plan to better address potential North Korean provocations. The combined operational plan, which was signed between militaries of the two nations last week, went into effect immediately.