N. Korea accuses South of surprise navy attack
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea says that South Korea staged a deadly surprise attack on its navy on Saturday to provoke a response and to undermine relations during the World Cup finals.
The official North Korean news agency, KCNA, quoted a navy spokesman as saying the South's apology demand for the Yellow Sea attack, that left at least four sailors dead, was, "the height of impudence.''
"The serious military provocation made by the South Korean military authorities is aimed to orchestrate a shocking incident at a time when the World Cup is going and shift the blame for it on to the DPRK [North Korea]," the spokesman said.
Both Seoul and Pyongyang have blamed each other for starting Saturday's clash that left at least four South Korean sailors dead, one missing, and at least 19 injured. North Korea has not released any casualty figures, though South Korean officials estimate that up to 30 were killed or injured. (Sailor's account of clash)
South Korea's defense ministry says that North Korean warships accompanying an undisclosed number of fishing vessels crossed the disputed sea border in the Yellow Sea between the two countries on Saturday before firing at the South's navy ships, triggering a 21-minute gun battle.
The sporadic gunfight caused one South Korean vessel to catch fire and sink while it was being towed, defense ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Lee Sang-Hee said. A North Korean ship also caught fire and is believed to have been destroyed.
North Korea says its forces acted in self-defense.
'Violation of armistice'
South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has called the incident -- considered a blow to his policy of reconciliation with Pyongyang -- a clear violation by the North of the Korean armistice.
South Korea's military has been placed on a higher level of alert with a squadron of fighter jets and a battleship sent to patrol the area where the incident took place.
"The military provocation of pre-emptive firing by a North Korean navy patrol ship is a clear violation of the armistice and an act that raises tension on the Korean peninsula. We cannot keep silent," Kim said.
"The government will take necessary steps so the people can engage in their business without concerns," Kim said on Sunday before heading to Japan to attend the World Cup final and hold talks with Japanese leaders.
The United States is condemning what it calls an "armed provocation" by North Korea against the South after a deadly sea skirmish between Korean naval forces.
Washington has declared its support for South Korea with whom it has close ties with since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, and called the incident an " armed provocation" by North Korea.
"We support the stance of our ally against armed provocation," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Brenda Greenberg said.
There are about 37,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.
Gen. Leon LaPorte, who commands the U.S. forces said that American and South Korean forces were in "close contact" after the attack.
"This provocative act by North Korea is a serious violation of the Armistice Agreement and could have serious implications in many areas," he said in a statement.
It is unclear how the naval clash will affect U.S. efforts to resume talks with North Korea. Last week, Washington proposed a resumption of dialogue in July. (Full story)
The United Nations Command called for general level talks with North Korea at Panmunjom, a truce village in the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, still technically at war.
North Korea has not responded to the U.N. Command's call for talks, which are standard protocol after a violation of the armed truce between the two countries.
Series of incursions
South Korea says its patrol boats noticed one North Korean boat venture past the sea border off the west coast of the Korean peninsula shortly before 10 a.m. local time and warned it to turn back.
About 30 minutes later, several North Korean fishing and patrol boats had emerged and began firing at the patrol boats, according to the South Korean defense ministry.
The two Koreas dispute the exact location of the sea border between their countries.
Saturday's clash followed a recent series of incursions by North Korean navy ships into South Korean waters. On Friday, two North Korean patrol boats briefly crossed the border -- the tenth such violation this year. (Timeline of incidents)
In June 1999, several border violations by North Korean ships sparked the first naval clash between the two Koreas since the 1950-53 Korean War.
A North Korean torpedo boat was sunk and two other North Korean vessels seriously damaged in the fierce battle. About 30 North Korean sailors were believed killed.
South and North Korea have been divided since the 1950-53 Korean War and are still technically at war.
-- CNN Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae contributed to this report
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