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SKorean president orders military on alert

South Korea's president ordered the military on alert today for any moves by rival North Korea after the defense minister said last week's explosion and sinking of a South Korean ship may have been caused by a North Korean mine.

world Updated: Mar 30, 2010 14:21 IST

South Korea's president ordered the military on alert today for any moves by rival North Korea after the defense minister said last week's explosion and sinking of a South Korean ship may have been caused by a North Korean mine.

The blast ripped the 1,200-ton ship apart last Friday night during a routine patrol mission near Baengnyeong Island, along the tense maritime border west of the Korean peninsula.

Fifty-eight crew members, including the captain, were plucked to safety; 46 are missing, with dim prospects for finding any further survivors.

Divers geared up to break into the ship today, Rear Adm Lee Ki-sik of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters. He said there were no signs of life inside.

Military officials say the exact cause of the explosion remains unclear, and US and South Korean officials said there was no outward indication of North Korean involvement.

However, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told lawmakers Monday that a floating mine dispatched from North Korea was one of several scenarios for the disaster.

"North Korea may have intentionally floated underwater mines to inflict damage on us," Kim said.

The two Koreas remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953. North Korea disputes the sea border drawn by the United Nations in 1953, and the western waters near the spot where the Cheonan went down have been the site of three bloody skirmishes between North and South.

Pyongyang's state media have made no mention of the ship.

"Since the sinking took place at the front line, the military should thoroughly prepare for any move by North Korea," President Lee Myung-bak told his Cabinet, according to his spokesman, Park Sun-kyoo. "I want the military to maintain its readiness."