Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NKorea says SKorea faces consequences over clash

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea threatened South Korea on Thursday with possible punishment over a skirmish that left one of its warships badly damaged and a crew member dead.

The rival Koreas clashed at sea Tuesday for the first time in seven years, with each side accusing the other of violating the disputed western sea border and firing first.

South Korean officials claimed victory, saying a North Korean ship suffered heavy damage during the two-minute battle. They said a South Korean ship was lightly damaged and there were no casualties on their side.

A senior military officer told The Associated Press on Wednesday that one North Korean officer was killed and three others wounded. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter involved intelligence.

On Thursday, the North's government-run Minju Joson newspaper warned in a commentary that South Korea would face "costly consequences" if it continues to assume a confrontational posture against the North.

The commentary, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, did not specify what consequences the South would face if it continues to provoke tension and blame the North for the maritime incident.

North Korea's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried a similar commentary, according to KCNA, accusing South Korean "warmongerers" of "treacherous acts."

Minju Joson said the clash stemmed from a plot by the South to disrupt direct talks that are planned between Pyongyang and Washington by inspiring anti-North Korea sentiment among American officials.

President Barack Obama plans to send a senior envoy to Pyongyang by year's end for the first direct talks between the wartime foes during his administration. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Singapore on Wednesday that the skirmish would not scuttle a planned visit to Pyongyang by special envoy Stephen Bosworth.

Stephen Bosworth's trip is aimed at persuading communist North Korea to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations. North Korea walked away from those talks earlier this year.

South Korea's 680,000-member military went on high alert following the naval clash to cope with possible retaliation. South Korean media reported the country has deployed up to four destroyers and warships near the sea border — the scene of two bloody skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.

"Our warship repelled the North Korean patrol vessel in a single stroke," Navy Chief of Staff Jung Ok-keun said in a speech Wednesday marking the 64th anniversary of the navy's foundation.

"We're fully prepared for North Korea's possible additional provocation and will unshakably, resolutely and sternly respond in any situation," he said.

South Korea's military said there has been no sign of suspicious activities from North Korean troops, but news reports said the North has also placed its 1.2 million-strong army on high alert.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told the National Assembly on Tuesday that he believed the North may take retaliatory actions, saying President Lee Myung-bak "also has such concerns."

The two Koreas have remained technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The U.S., which has never had diplomatic relations with North Korea, stations 28,500 troops in South Korea to deter potential North Korean aggressions.

Associated Press writers Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul and Matthew Lee in Singapore contributed to this report.

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