President Lee visits shipwreck rescue site near North border

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President Lee visits shipwreck rescue site near North border

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지난 26일 밤 백령도 인근 해상에서 발생한 해군 초계함 천안함 침몰사고 당시 긴급출동한 해경 501함 소속 고속단정에 구조된 해군 장병들이 고속단정에서 해경 501함으로 옮겨타고 있다.<< 해양경찰청 제공 >>[연합뉴스]

President Lee Myung-bak visited an island just south of the inter-Korean sea border Tuesday as public angst was building at the lack of success in rescuing missing sailors from a sunken patrol ship.

The Blue House said that Lee is the first South Korean president to visit Baengnyeong Island, 16 kilometers (10 miles) from North Korea's west coast, where a host of ground-to-ship guided missile and coastline artillery are deployed.

"President Lee was briefed on rescue work and met the families of the missing," Blue House spokesman Park Sun-kyoo told reporters.

The 1,200-ton warship Cheonan sank Friday night after an unexplained explosion that tore the vessel into two. Only 58 of the 104 crew members aboard were rescued. The other 46 are still missing, and the cause of the accident has yet to be confirmed.

Guarded by fighter jets as is routine, the presidential chopper first landed on the 14,000-ton Dokdo amphibious landing ship which is supervising the rescue operation. The president was transported on a rubber boat to a 3,000-ton Gwangyang rescue ship for the briefing. He also visited a Marine Corp base on Bangnyeong Island, according to the spokesman.

The Blue House had asked for a strict embargo on the president's trip until Lee had arrived in a "safe area."

Park stressed that Lee's surprise trip there, which some aides advised against, was not for a photo opportunity.

"It shows the president's awareness of the seriousness of this incident and his heart going out to the young missing soldiers," he said.

The visit was also intended to deliver a message to the military that it should not be distracted by the incident, Park said.

Chairing the weekly cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Lee ordered his military to stay alert against North Korea following the sinking of the ship

"As [the sinking] occurred at the frontline, [the military] should be thoroughly prepared for moves by North Korea," Lee was quoted as saying.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said the military is looking into the case, leaving "every possibility" open, including the North's involvement. Media here have raised the possibility that a sea mine floated by North Korea across the border might be to blame for the explosion.

The president called for a "speedy and scientific" investigation into the incident, instructing his administration to make sure the results are fully disclosed.

The two Koreas remain in a state of war as their three-year war ended in an armistice, not a formal peace treaty, in 1953. Their navies skirmished in 1999, 2002, and 2009 around the Northern Limit Line, a de-facto maritime border drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations, but unacknowledged by the North.

Pyongyang has been silent on the incident. In its latest official statement, the North warned that the South will face deadly consequences if it continues to allow journalists into the heavily-armed demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.

South Korea's Defense Ministry had allowed television reporters and other journalists to enter the "no man's land" inside the DMZ as part of events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the war. [Yonhap]

Related Korean Article

독도함.광양함서 구조병력 독려, 역대 대통령중 최초 백령도 방문


이명박 대통령이 30일 해군 초계함 천안함 침몰 사건 현장인 백령도를 전격 방문했다.

백령도는 인근에 북한의 지대함 유도탄과 해안포가 집중배치돼 있는 접경지역으로, 이 대통령은 역대 대통령중 최초로 이곳을 방문했다.

이 대통령은 이날 오전 전용헬기 편으로 청와대를 출발, 1시간 20분 비행 끝에 사건 현장에 출동해 있는 독도함에 내려 해군 관계자들로부터 현황을 보고받았다.

이 대통령은 이어 고무보트를 이용해 독도함에서 2.7Km 거리에 있는 광양함에 도착, 구조상황을 지켜보고 실종자 가족들을 만나 위로했다.

이 대통령은 다시 고무보트 편으로 독도함에 돌아왔다가 헬기 편으로 백령도에 있는 해병 6여단에 도착해 관련 보고를 받았다.

박선규 청와대 대변인은 "백령도는 북한 장산곶에서 13.1Km 밖에 떨어지지 않은 곳으로 이 대통령의 모든 행동들이 북한에 관측될 수 있고 그만큼 상당한 위험에 노출된 지역"이라며 "그래서 지금까지 백령도를 방문한 대통령은 없었다"고 말했다.
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