Cheonan probe detects TNT typeTraces of explosives used in the former communist bloc, including North Korea, were found on the wreckage of the sunken South Korean Navy warship Cheonan, a senior military official told the JoongAng Ilbo.
A joint investigation team of civilian and military experts has been analyzing traces of explosives on the ship and metal pieces from the sea to identify the cause of the tragedy. The Cheonan was sunk on March 26 by an unexplained external explosion.
According to the source, traces of RDX and TNT were discovered on the sheared section of the ship and metal debris from the site. An analysis of the explosives showed that the mixture matches those used in countries of the former communist bloc, such as Russia, China and North Korea.
“While RDX’s composition is similar worldwide, TNT mixtures differ from those used in the United States and England and others used in the former communist bloc,” he said.
While South Korean weapons use American-style TNT, North Korea manufactures arms by the Chinese and former Soviet models.
“By analyzing the mixtures of TNT, a crucial ingredient of a torpedo, we can conclude the builder,” he said.
The finding appears to point to North Korea’s involvement in the explosion that killed 46 sailors. The probe outcome is scheduled to be announced before next Thursday, Won Tae-jae, spokesman of the Defense Ministry, said yesterday.
In addition to an analysis of the explosives, the investigators are also comparing the salvaged metal pieces with a North Korean torpedo found about seven years ago in the Yellow Sea, believed to be left behind after an exercise, another military official said.
The National Institute of Scientific Investigation is examining the metal samples, according to the source.
Won, the Defense Ministry spokesman, also confirmed the comparisons were being conducted. “No conclusion, however, has been made yet because North Korea operates various types of torpedoes.”
He also dismissed speculation that the finding of the torpedo seven years ago proves that North Korea crossed the inter-Korean border in the Yellow Sea. “Just because a torpedo was discovered in our waters, that is not necessarily evidence of an infiltration,” Won said. “It is a light torpedo, so it could have reached the South by currents.”
Meanwhile, the National Defense Ministry has asked the National Assembly to replace a civilian member of the Cheonan probe for having caused the public to mistrust the investigation.
“Shin Sang-cheol, who joined the investigation at the recommendation of the Democratic Party, has rarely participated in the probe,” said Won. “He also made public his personal opinions, bringing about distrust of the investigation team. We have recently made an official request to the National Assembly for his replacement.”
Shin runs an Internet political magazine, “Seoprise.” He has recently claimed that the Cheonan collided with another vessel. The joint investigation team of the military and civilian experts, however, said in two official briefings that the Cheonan sank due to an external explosion.
“The ministry’s letter to National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o had pointed out Shin’s lack of expertise,” Won said. “Since he joined the investigation team at the recommendation of the legislature, we have made a polite request.”
The ministry’s request for Shin’s removal at such a late stage in the investigation is seen as a rare move, as the outcome is scheduled to be announced next week.
By Kim Min-seok, Ser Myo-ja [email@example.com]