Lee call sinking of warship no 'simple accident,' order full review of military readiness
SEOUL, South Korea – SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Lee Myung-bak ordered a thorough review of South Korea's military readiness Tuesday, calling the sinking of a warship no "simple accident" as officials inched closer to blaming North Korea in the deadly incident.
Lee did not directly name wartime rival North Korea as a suspect in the March 26 disaster as he opened a historic meeting of top military commanders at the Defense Ministry. However, he made it clear for the first time that he considers the sinking of the Cheonan following an explosion in disputed waters near the Koreas' maritime border to be an incident linked to North Korea. The president also called North Korea "the most belligerent forces" in the world.
"What is obvious so far is that the Cheonan did not sink due to a simple accident," he said. "As soon as the incident occurred, I sensed it was a grave international and inter-Korean matter."
The 1,200-ton Cheonan sank in the Yellow Sea after an explosion blew the frigate apart. Fifty-eight sailors were rescued, but 46 were killed. Defense Minister Kim Tae-young has said after an initial investigation that a torpedo appears the likely culprit.
Seoul has never directly blamed North Korea for the sinking, and Pyongyang has denied involvement. However, suspicion has focused on the North, given its history of provocations and attacks.
The two Koreas remain technically locked in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953. North Korea disputes the U.N.-drawn maritime border off the west coast, and the two navies have fought three bloody sea battles in the waters.
Lee said he immediately ordered a joint international investigation after the incident and said he expected the results soon.
"After we find the cause, I will take definite, stern" action against those responsible, he said in a nationally televised speech.
He said there must be no delay in ensuring the country's security, and ordered a "full-fledged" review of South Korea's military readiness.
Lee told the generals that South Korea's security readiness has been "lax" and the people have also been living without realizing that forward-deployed artillery of "the most belligerent forces are aiming at us."
"The Cheonan incident reminded us about that," Lee said. He said the North's artillery are deployed only 30 miles (50 kilometers) away from Seoul.
Lee also said he would establish a presidential task force on national security and appoint a special security adviser.
It was the first time the president was chairing the twice-a-year defense strategy session.
The meeting took place as North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reportedly was visiting China on a rare trip to the neighboring nation.