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Seoul demands North apologize over flood deaths

Blue House, military, water agency castigated for their role in the tragedy  PLAY AUDIO

Sept 09,2009
Discontent with North Korea’s explanation for the floodwater that surged south across the border over the weekend, South Korea yesterday demanded an apology from Pyongyang. But Seoul was criticized by its own politicians for management of the crisis.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said yesterday it found “unacceptable” the North’s explanation that it had released water from one of its dams on Sunday on the Imjin River because water levels on its side of the border had surged. The discharge caused a flash flood on the south side of the river in Yeoncheon, north of Seoul in Gyeonggi. Three South Koreans were killed and three more are still missing.

Immediately after the flood, South Korea suspected the North had deliberately released the water to cause a sudden flood. Political circles cried foul over what it called an “inhumane” criminal act.

But instead of requesting an apology, the South’s government on Monday asked for an “explanation” for the incident.

In response, the North admitted Monday evening that it had discharged water and pledged it would give the South prior notice if it had to release dam water in the future. A South Korean government official said Monday that the North’s explanation was “not satisfactory” because it didn’t mention the South Korean victims.

“We demand an apology and sufficient explanation from North Korea for causing South Korean deaths,” Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said yesterday. “We will also review the possibility of inter-Korean discussions to prevent further damage at rivers that flow across the border.”

Chun also said the South Korean government has no immediate plans to propose inter-Korean dialogue first.

When pressed why the government didn’t immediately demand an apology, a Blue House official defended Seoul’s discretion.

“We specifically included missing South Koreans in our first communique, expecting the North to issue an apology or at least express regrets in return,” the official said. “They didn’t, and that’s unfortunate. But at the time, we hadn’t yet established whether the North was forced to release water under certain circumstances or it did so to attack our territory.”

But the official stressed that in its ongoing investigation, the South “is leaving all possibilities open” regarding the North’s actual intentions.

North Korea had no immediate reaction to the South’s request for an apology.

The South Korean government wasn’t beyond criticism from its own policy makers yesterday.

Kim Seong-jo, the chief policy maker for the Grand National Party, blasted the government for its lax crisis management and said some heads would have to roll, citing the malfunctioning of the flood alert system and the communication breakdown between the military and the local government in Yeoncheon.

“This was definitely a man-made disaster,” Kim said. “We should take this opportunity to eradicate this sort of negligence.”

The Democratic Party pointed its finger at the military and water management officials. Party spokesman Noh Young-min said the army unit stationed along the Imjin for drills only evacuated its own soldiers without properly notifying the local government and helping to save other campers.

Korea Water Resources Corp., meanwhile, admitted Monday that its automatic flood alert system at Imjin had stopped functioning late Saturday night, hours before the flood, and wasn’t fixed until hours after the incident. “The government’s crisis management raises a lot of question marks,” Noh said.

After finding three bodies along the Imjin Monday, about 4,400 rescue workers and soldiers continued their efforts to find the bodies of the three other missing campers.

Yeoncheon police said early morning fog had disrupted their search but that visibility improved as the day went on.


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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