SEOUL, May 21, 2010 (AFP) - Seoul's defence chief vowed Friday to make North Korea pay for sinking a South Korean warship as international outrage grew over the attack which claimed 46 lives.
"North Korea surpassed the limits and for such an act we will make it pay," Defence Minister Kim Tae-Young told foreign correspondents.
President Lee Myung-Bak separately described the March 26 torpedo attack on a 1,200-corvette as a breach of the armistice which ended the 1950-53 war but said Seoul's response would be prudent.
|South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak (L) and cabinet members attend an emergency meeting of the National Security Council at the presidential house in Seoul on May 21, 2010. AFP photo|
Condemnation of Pyongyang has intensified since a multinational investigation team announced Thursday that a submarine from the North fired a heavy torpedo which split the Cheonan in two.
"This was a serious provocation. There will definitely be consequences," US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
The North, for the second time in two days, denied involvement and accused Seoul of faking the evidence. It has threatened "all-out war" in response to any attempt to punish it.
Investigators said parts of a torpedo salvaged from the seabed match those used by the North.
The defence ministry Friday again put the salvaged propellors and other items on display inside a glass case during a briefing to back up its claims.
Experts pointed out similarities between the salvaged weaponry and a blueprint the North has used when exporting such torpedoes. They said explosive residue found on the weaponry matched that on the warship's hull.
A top military intelligence official said the North apparently launched the attack in revenge for a firefight near the disputed border last November, which left a North Korean patrol boat in flames.
The aim was "to restore honour to the military and boost its morale", said the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, Lt Gen Hwang Won-Dong.
Other motives, he said, were to distract people from economic woes, exacerbated by a bungled currency change; to strengthen internal solidarity; to gain leverage in six-party nuclear disarmament talks and to press the Seoul government to soften its cross-border policies.
Minister Kim said Seoul would seek additional sanctions on the North from the United Nations Security Council, among other measures.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Japan Friday and will go on to China and South Korea in a trip expected to focus on rising regional tensions.
President Lee called the first meeting of his National Security Council in almost a year to mull Seoul's response.
"This is an armed provocation which constitutes a breach of the charter of the United Nations, the armistice agreement and the (1991) inter-Korean framework agreement," he said.
But South Korea is thought to have ruled out any military counterstrike for fear of triggering full-scale war.
"This incident is so serious and grave an issue that we must be very cautious and prudent in handling it," Lee said.
South Korea has won sympathy and pledges of support from numerous Western nations as well as Japan.
The North Friday reiterated claims that its neighbour faked the evidence.
"It just produced fragments and pieces of aluminium whose origin remains unknown as 'evidence', becoming the target of derision," a spokesman for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said on official media.
"The puppet group (Seoul government) has created such grave situation on the Korean peninsula that a war may break out right now," it said, issuing a warning it commonly delivers.
The North said it sees the current situation "as the phase of a war".
It threatened to respond to any retaliation with a "total freeze" of inter-Korean relations and abrogation of a non-aggression pact.
The US-led United Nations Command (UNC) said Friday it would launch its own inquiry to review the findings of Seoul's investigation "and determine the scope of armistice violation that occurred in the sinking".
The command has been in the South since the UN sent an international force to defend it after the Korean War broke out in 1950.
The North wants to send its own team south to assess the evidence.
But South Korea said it should instead attend military talks with the UNC after the command wraps up its inquiry.