For the first time in the 62-year history of Korea’s military, a president will chair an emergency meeting of top commanders to discuss the national security crisis prompted by the sinking of the Navy warship Cheonan near the inter-Korean border.
About 150 commanders from the Army, Navy and Air Force will attend the meeting with President Lee Myung-bak tomorrow, according to Blue House spokesman Park Sun-kyoo.
“President Lee will discuss the task that the Cheonan’s sinking has put before our people and military, and reveal his position as the chief commander of the armed forces,” Park said.
Lee is expected to ask the commanders to heighten their readiness to protect national security.
“Because the issue is so grave, the military is looking into the possibility of inviting civilian advisers” on international relations, Park said.
Park said Lee’s message to the military will focus on improvement, not reprimand. “The Lee administration’s national security policy will definitely be different before and after the Cheonan’s sinking,” he said.
Lee had considered making a presidential address to the nation today, but that has been delayed, Park said. Instead, Lee will discuss his position with the commanders, and a presidential address may follow at a later date, possibly when the international probe into the cause of the sinking is complete.
As Lee planned the unprecedented meeting to tighten military discipline and discuss the follow-up to the Cheonan disaster, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young vowed retaliation against those responsible for the tragedy that killed 46 sailors on March 26.
In an appearance on KBS’s “Inside the Issue,” broadcast yesterday morning, Kim said he agrees with earlier remarks by Navy Chief of Staff Kim Sung-chan that South Korea will make those responsible pay the price.
“We must exact clear punishment against the forces that killed our sailors,” Defense Minister Kim said. “We have to consider the vicious cycle that retaliation brings about retaliation, but we must identify those responsible by an indisputable probe and show them consequences.”
Minister Kim candidly admitted that the South Korean military was caught off guard in the Yellow Sea.
“Submarine offensives are easier in the East Sea and there had been [North Korean] attempts to land from there, so we had reinforced our measures in that area,” he said. “But the waters in the Yellow Sea are shallow, below 60 meters [197 feet], so we judged that submarine operations there were limited and the possibility of submarine infiltration was low. We will reinforce our readiness in the Yellow Sea.”
Kim said that if physical evidence reveals the ship was torn in two by a torpedo, determining where it came from should be possible by “factoring in circumstantial evidence.”
He added, however, that the matter must be approached carefully.
Kim said four pieces of foreign aluminum collected from the sinking site should not be called “decisive evidence.” Asked if the metal pieces could be considered a smoking gun, he said, “They are pieces only about three millimeters [.12 inch] long.”
Kim had revealed the finding in a briefing to lawmakers of the National Assembly’s Defense Committee on Friday. “The composition of aluminum in the pieces was different from that of ours,” Kim said. “We think they are different from the metal that we build our ships with.”
Aluminum is used in torpedoes and encapsulated torpedo mines, often called captor mines. Sea mines are normally built with iron.
The Ministry of National Defense said 549 pieces of physical evidence had been collected as of last week, and examinations are continuing on 297 pieces. Kim said four pieces of metal and one piece of plastic appear to be made of different materials from those used on the Cheonan.
Kim told the lawmakers he is reviewing the issue of invoking the right of self-defense. “If necessary, we have the air capability to make an armed demonstration [toward the North],” he said.
The joint team of civilian and military experts is also trying to restore video footage from closed-circuit TVs on board the Cheonan, a senior government official said yesterday. The source said the cameras likely recorded the moments of the ship’s sinking.
“If the images can be restored, they will be valuable clues to understand the explosion,” he said.
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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