South Korea Presses UN Security Council to Take Action Over Ship's Sinking

South Korea called on the United Nations Security Council to take “appropriate action” against North Korea for torpedoing the Cheonan warship, hours after the government replaced its top military commander.

The Security Council’s response should be “commensurate with the gravity of the provocation,” South Korea’s Ambassador Park In Kook said in New York yesterday as officials presented evidence of North Korean involvement in the sinking.

“We are just victims,” Pak Tok Hun, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the UN told reporters before meeting privately with the Security Council, reiterating the country wasn’t responsible for the incident.

South Korea yesterday replaced Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Lee Sang Eui’s after an investigation showed “many problems” in the country’s response to the incident. The findings may hinder President Lee Myung Bak’s bid to win over a public that is skeptical of his hard line on North Korea and that punished his Grand National Party in local elections on June 2.

The South Korean investigation may also undermine Lee’s push for action at the UN, said Brian Myers, professor of international studies at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea. China and Russia, which have veto power in the council, have refused to back South Korea.

“If they see even the South Korean people themselves aren’t really all that upset about the Cheonan sinking they are going to feel even less inclined to want to alienate North Korea,” Myers said. “The South Koreans need to project more of an image of firmness and resolve.”

International Panel

A South Korea-led multination panel, which said on May 20 North Korea fired a torpedo that sank the 1,200-ton warship, killing 46 sailors, presented evidence to the Security Council. The panel included experts from the U.S., U.K., Australia and Sweden.

The evidence included photographs of pieces of the torpedo and information about the movements of North Korean submarines in the region at the time of the attack. Other proof included photos of ship plates that were bent inwards by an explosion and statements from survivors.

South Korea’s presentation was “extremely convincing,” Japan’s Ambassador Yukio Takasu said, adding that the Security Council should “take action.” Some council members, Takasu said without naming them, “are still analyzing, have some questions and want to wait.”

Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the UN, said he found the South Korean briefing “very convincing.” About Pak’s presentation, Araud said there was “nothing on the North Korean side, just allegations, accusations, no science.”

North Korea has accused South Korea of cooking up evidence to justify U.S.-led efforts to stifle it.

Drinking Binge

South Korea’s probe into its response to the incident revealed a shot-drinking binge by General Lee and a cover-up of failures in the nation’s defense. Army Chief of Staff Han Min Koo will replace Lee, pending lawmakers’ approval, the Defense Ministry said yesterday.

After downing 10 shots of whiskey at a military dinner in Daejeon on March 26, according to closed-circuit television footage cited by government investigators, Lee took a train 160 kilometers (99 miles) north to Seoul to take charge as the warship Cheonan split in two in heavy seas.

Lee slept off his drinking session in his office, Yonhap News reported last week, citing investigators. The Joint Chiefs of Staff denied the General was too drunk to give orders.

Tail Fin

Within hours of reports of the drinking session, South Korean websites carried a picture of a shot glass in the shape of a torpedo, with No.1 written on one tail fin. That number, painted on a torpedo fin salvaged from the sinking site, was a key piece of the evidence put forward by a South Korean-led international panel to prove the North Korea was behind the attack.

North Korea has played on contradictions in South Korea’s report, including a change in the reported time the incident took place.

The South Korean military edited video footage to remove evidence of the timing of the event in an attempt to cover up the slow response, the probe found. The audit board on June 10 said 25 generals and civilian officials should be punished over numerous problems in the military’s ability to prevent attacks and the reporting of incidents.

Almost one in four South Koreans said they don’t trust the probe’s findings, according to a poll commissioned by the Hankook Ilbo newspaper on May 24.

Such skepticism has riled the government, which announced a crackdown on people spreading “false rumors” on the Internet.

The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy sent letters to Security Council members questioning the findings and calling for a reopening of the investigation, said Kim Hui Sun, a coordinator at the Seoul-based civic group.

In a six-point objection, the group said the military’s failure to disclose information and the government’s clampdown on freedom of speech had undermined the inquiry.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bomi Lim in Seoul at blim30@bloomberg.net; Bill Varner at the United Nations at wvarner@bloomberg.net

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