[EDITORIALS]Get tough with North

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[EDITORIALS]Get tough with North

It is getting clearer and clearer that the clash between North and South Korean Navy ships that occurred Saturday in South Korean waters was an intentional provocation on the part of North Korea.

The North Korean ships started firing simultaneously on the South Korean side, hitting the steering room of a South Korean ship first, after ignoring repeated loudspeaker warnings to withdraw. Previously, a North Korean ship had sailed across the border dividing the North and South waters, and advanced southward. Five minutes later, another North Korean ship did the same, which was a move that caused the South Korean fleet of navy patrol ships to disperse. All these facts strongly suggest that the North Koreans had already planned this before entering the South's waters. Yet Pyeongyang sticks to its claim that it was the South Korean ships that fired first.

The truth must prevail and justice must be done. North Korea should have no reason to refuse an immediate meeting between authorities for an investigation into the matter if the North's claims are true. If the meeting is indeed held and North Koreans are found to be in the wrong, we should make sure that we get an apology and compensation from Pyeongyang, along with the promise that such incidents will never happen again.

Should North Korea refuse the meeting or continue to be uncooperative in the meeting, we must seriously consider alternatives such as reducing or halting all our joint projects with the North, including the Mount Geumgang tours.

There are those of the opinion that there is no need to exaggerate the meaning and the impact of the incident. They point out that this may have been another product of internal power fights in the North Korean military, such as many suspect the 1999 clash in the East Sea between North and South Korean ships had been. Others see this as a warning from conservative hardliners in Pyeongyang -- not to the South but to Chairman Kim Jong-il for his more liberal efforts, such as opening part of the Demilitarized Zone and Mount Geumgang to South Koreans. In either case, the proponents claim, the best thing for South Korea to do is to sit still and stay out of an "inside" business.

Of course, it is important to understand the political background and intentions of North Korea in this incident. However, what is even more important at this time is to reassure the worried citizens of South Korea that such military conflicts will not be repeated or escalated. We need to set up measures to prevent any further military attacks from the North and to strengthen our military defense. This would include asking questions about our military. Letting the North Korean factor of the story alone, what did happen out there? How could our navy have let one of its ships sink and lose the lives of four sailors? Had this been an unavoidable loss or had the navy not responded efficiently enough to the situation? Are there any questions that our commanding officers need to answer?

We can only feel shock and anger that North Korea could do anything to interrupt our successful staging of the World Cup, a significant event to the whole world and even more so to South Koreans this year with our advancement into the semifinals, the first-ever for an Asian country. We need to let North Korea know that there could never be any reconciliation if there is going to be pre-emptive attacks. Mere words will not root out such atrocious acts from North Korea. Let the North Koreans agree to a meeting and let them show sincerity in their cooperation this time or let us take action this time, such as stopping the Mount Geumgang tours.
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