UN condemns Cheonan sinking, cites North Korea

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UN condemns Cheonan sinking, cites North Korea

The UN Security Council finally agreed to adopt a presidential statement condemning the attack on the Cheonan warship in March, according to Seoul diplomatic sources, and expressing “deep concern” over North Korea’s involvement.

The 12-member council held a meeting Thursday evening New York time to view a final draft of the presidential statement to be officially adopted on Friday morning New York time.

Seoul officials expressed satisfaction with the long-delayed outcome, although some analysts said the statement wasn’t explicit enough in blaming Pyongyang.

The council’s presidential statement doesn’t have any legal force, as a resolution would.

“The Security Council deplores the attack on 26 March 2010 which led to the sinking of the ROK naval ship, the Cheonan, resulting in the tragic loss of 46 lives,” said the draft circulated among the UN Security Council members and related countries. North Korea was not mentioned in this part of the statement.

But in a later sentence, the council said, “In view of the findings [of the South Korean-led multinational investigation] which concluded that the DPRK [North Korea] was responsible for sinking the Cheonan, the Security Council expresses its deep concern.”

The council also called for “appropriate and peaceful measures to be taken against those responsible for the incident.”

North Korea was named three times in the single-page draft, including its claim that it had nothing to do with the sinking. “The Security Council takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the DPRK, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident,” the draft said.

The statement also addressed the “importance of preventing further attacks or hostilities” against the South or the region.

“It was a satisfying result,” said one senior Seoul diplomat. He said the statement from the powerful UN body would send a “stern message” that would prevent more attacks by Pyongyang.

“What’s important is that we conveyed a clear message that one should not make additional attacks or hostile actions against South Korea,” said the official.

“It was a half-success, considering our government’s biggest priority is making the international community recognize that it was North Korea that attacked the Cheonan,” said Hong Hyeon-ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, a political think tank. “The statement is too equivocal to be a warning message to the North.”

Seoul diplomats officially sent the case to the UN in early July, holding briefings at the UN to promote their arguments. Diplomats from Pyongyang held their own briefings.

Another senior Foreign Ministry official expressed pleasure with the outcome, comparing it to the council’s 1996 presidential statement deploring Pyongyang for sending 26 armed commandos in a submarine to the South to collect confidential military information and kill prominent figures. All of them were captured or killed after 49 days of pursuit that left 11 South Korean soldiers, two police officers and four civilians dead.

“Back then, the wording of the statement was very neutral even though we were the chair country of the council at that time,” said the official. The 1996 presidential statement from the council said it “expresses its serious concern” and “no action should be taken that might increase tension or undermine peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

China, the North’s key ally, made a “very significant, painful but right decision” to allow such pointed wording to appear in the latest statement, the official said.

By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]
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