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'N Koreans believe S Korean ship sunk by torpedo'

world Updated: Apr 21, 2010 16:19 IST

AFP
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North Korean soldiers believe a South Korean warship which sunk last month was hit in a premeditated military operation approved by leader Kim Jong-Il, a South Korean activist said Wednesday.

"Despite Pyongyang's denial, many North Korean soldiers believe a torpedo sank the ship," Choi Sung-Yong, a campaigner for the return of South Koreans abducted by Pyongyang, told AFP.

He said his claim was based on a telephone conversation with an unnamed North Korean army officer. South Korean officials refused to comment.

The sinking of the 1,200-tonne Cheonan on the tense maritme border cost the lives of 46 sailors and suspicions are hanging over North Korea, although Seoul has not directly accused Pyongyang.

South Korean officials say an "external explosion" was the most likely cause while Pyongyang has accused Seoul of seeking to shift the blame in order to justify its hardline policy toward its communist neighbour.

"I heard the ship was sunk in a premeditated operation approved by Kim Jong-Il," Choi said.

The officer said Kim gave an order to exact revenge for a sea skirmish last November, Choi added.

Choi said 13 commandos using a small submarine appeared to have launched a torpedo attack.

The South's defence minister has raised the possibility that a mine or torpedo may have sank the ship on March 26 near the disputed sea border, the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999 and 2002 and the November firefight.

The November incident left a North Korean patrol boat in flames and local media reports said one North Korean sailor was killed and three wounded.

The North has vowed to take "merciless" military action to protect its own version of the Yellow Sea border.