Foreign experts will join Cheonan probe

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Foreign experts will join Cheonan probe

The United States, Britain, Australia and Sweden will join the probe of the sinking of the Navy warship Cheonan last month.

The Ministry of National Defense announced yesterday these four countries will each send experts to join Korea’s investigation into the incident, whose cause has yet to be determined.

“First and foremost, we have to find out exactly what led to the sinking,” said ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae. “These experts will help us proceed with our investigation.”

The U.S. team will be led by a general and will include experts in explosives and in naval incidents, a military official in Seoul said yesterday.

“They’re in the selection process and will notify us in the near future,” the official said. “I understand the U.S. team will be made up of active servicemen, civilians and reserve troops. Gen. Walter Sharp, the U.S. Forces Korea commander, is in final consultations with U.S. officials.”

Meeting with Gen. Lee Sang-eui, chairman of Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, earlier this week, Sharp said the United States would work “very closely together” with Korea and would provide technical assistance. Sharp also said his country would supply any necessary equipment and manpower to aid efforts to search for missing bodies and salvage the damaged vessel.

Korean President Lee Myung-bak has repeatedly called for an accurate and transparent probe into the disaster.

He said Wednesday he would even ask for help from the United Nations in order to produce scientific and precise findings that would earn the trust of the international community.

Two weeks after the sinking, Korean investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the blast that split the 1,200-ton corvette into two.

On Wednesday, surviving sailors testified that they heard two ear-splitting explosions but smelled no gunpowder, as the rear end of the Cheonan sank quickly out of their view.

A torpedo, sea mines, an internal explosion and a ship malfunction have been floated as possible causes. North Korean involvement has been suspected, too.

There were 104 sailors on board when the Cheonan sank. Fifty-eight were rescued and two were found dead; the other 44 are still missing.

The United States offered a different kind of support yesterday. The Second Infantry Division, located north of Seoul, said it would designate tomorrow as a “Day of Remembrance” for troops aboard the Cheonan. Maj. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, the division commander, said all soldiers in the division, along with their families and friends, would pay their respect to the “courageous” Cheonan troops who fulfilled their mission for the country.

By Yoo Jee-ho []
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