Gov't Declines to Comment on Cause of Shipwreck

      March 29, 2010 11:35

      The government was tight-lipped Sunday about the cause of the sinking of Navy ship Cheonan on Friday night.

      President Lee Myung-bak was quoted telling a meeting of security-related ministers Sunday to investigate the sinking of the ship taking all the possibilities into account and avoid rash conclusions. Presidential spokesman Park Sun-kyu told reporters, "No clue has yet been found as to the cause of the shipwreck." Asked about possible involvement by North Korea's, he said, "Nothing has been confirmed yet."

      But Cheong Wa Dae and military authorities appear to be making different assumptions. The presidential office seems to have more or less ruled out North Korean involvement since there was no sign of a North Korean provocation or a motive for it. But military authorities, based on the serious damage to the sunken vessel, still consider a torpedo attack a possible cause. The Cheonan broke in half before it sank some three hours after the unexplained explosion.

      President Lee Myung-bak points to a map while speaking to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy corvette Cheonan during the meeting at the underground bunker in Cheong Wa Dae on Saturday afternoon. /Courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae

      The government is apparently being cautious because the repercussions will be great one way or the other. In the event the North was involved, the South may have to contemplate military retaliation, so the evidence will have to be iron-clad to persuade the international community that the response is justified. The effects on inter-Korean negotiations about tours to Mt. Kumgang and the Kaesong Industrial Estate must also be taken into account.

      If the shipwreck was somehow self-generated, then it will inevitably raise serious doubt about South Korea's readiness for war, and those responsible will have to be called to account. This again requires cast-iron evidence. The authorities have tended to dismiss the testimonies given by survivors, saying that they can only be a partial account because things happened so quickly.

      For now, the government is concentrating efforts on finding the missing sailors. Lee at the meeting Sunday said officials must do their best on the assumption that there are survivors.

      Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sent a telegram to Lee Sunday, expressing hope that more sailors will be rescued.

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