Cheonan probe finds RDX, alloy used in torpedoes

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Cheonan probe finds RDX, alloy used in torpedoes

Experts investigating the sinking of the Cheonan have identified traces of an explosive in the ship’s wreckage and fragments of an alloy used in torpedoes.

According to a government official in Seoul, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, the joint military and civilian investigation team has found traces of RDX, one of the most powerful military explosives.

“RDX is used in torpedoes, not sea mines,” the official said. “The traces were found in the Cheonan’s chimney and the damaged side of the stern.”

According to the official, investigators also found three to four pieces of metal near the site of the wreck, and analysis showed the fragments were an alloy of aluminum and magnesium, which is used in torpedo casings.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the alloy was made in Germany, China or Russia.

“It’s possible that North Korea may have used a German torpedo to disguise its attack, knowing that South Korea uses German torpedoes,” the official said.

In light of this finding, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young will meet with U.S. Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the U.S. Combined Forces Command in Seoul, Monday to discuss their next steps in the ongoing probe.

North Korea has been suspected in the case, though it has denied any responsibility. The latest finding and further analysis could prove such suspicions.

“If this was a torpedo attack, who else could we point to other than North Korea?” said a defense ministry official. “Minister Kim and Gen. Sharp will exchange opinions on what to do in case North Korea is found responsible for the torpedo attack. I understand Gen. Sharp has been kept posted on the probe by the American investigators here.”

In a related development, Kim Hong-kyun, director of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s bureau of the peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and Joseph Donovan, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, met yesterday in Seoul. Their meeting was largely focused on the handling of the Cheonan case, a ministry official said.

The 1,200-ton Navy corvette was split in half and sank off the West Coast on March 26. Forty sailors were found dead and six others are missing and have been presumed dead. The ship’s bow and stern were recovered last month.

Investigators had previously concluded that a non-contact external blast caused the destruction. Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said a torpedo attack was the likely cause.

The investigation is being done by a team of military and civilian experts from South Korea, the United States, Australia, Britain and Sweden. The South Korean government recruited outside help as President Lee Myung-bak wanted a transparent and objective probe.

Won Tae-jae, defense ministry spokesman, said the South is considering inviting experts from China and Russia, the two countries close to North Korea, to offer them a firsthand look at the Cheonan.

Military officials had earlier said the conclusion of the investigation would be made around May 20. But the official said yesterday an announcement could be made even earlier.

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

Related Korean Article

“천안함서 나온 화약성분은 어뢰서 주로 사용하는 RDX”


천안함을 공격한 수중무기가 사실상 어뢰로 기울어짐에 따라 한·미 군 수뇌부가 긴급 회동키로 했다. 국방부 관계자는 “월터 샤프 주한미군사령관이 10일 국방부를 방문해 김태영 국방부 장관과 천안함 대책을 논의하기로 했다”고 밝혔다. 이 관계자는 “천안함 연돌(굴뚝)과 함미 및 함수의 절단면, 수거한 알루미늄 합금 조각 등에서 어뢰에서 주로 사용하는 강력한 화약 성분인 RDX가 발견됐다”면서 “김 장관과 샤프 사령관은 향후 대책을 협의할 예정”이라고 말했다. 샤프 사령관의 국방부 방문은 지난 3월 26일 천안함 침몰 사건 이후 처음이다. 이 관계자는 “어뢰로 천안함을 공격할 수 있는 주체는 북한 외에 다른 나라가 있겠느냐”며 “김 장관과 샤프 사령관은 북한이 어뢰로 천안함을 공격한 것으로 확정될 경우에 대비해 다양한 대응책에 관한 의견을 교환할 것으로 보인다”고 전했다.

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