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South Korea: North unleashed flood on purpose

Seoul rejected Pyongyang's explanation that water levels had risen dangerously, pointing out that no recent downpours could have caused that. The water row is escalating just as tensions between the two had begun to ease.

By David MonteroCorrespondent / September 9, 2009



Things are getting heated between North and South Korea.

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Officials in the South accused the North Wednesday of intentionally unleashing 40 million tons of floodwater that on Sunday swept away six people on the southern side of the demilitaritized border. The bodies of three more of those people were found Wednesday.

The South’s statement marks a sharp escalation in the row from just one day ago, and comes at a delicate time for North and South Korea, whose stormy relations had just begun to calm down.

The Korea Times reported that the three bodies found were "Baek Chang-hyun, 38, and an eight-year old boy Lee Yong-taek near a bridge at the Imjin River, 60km northeast of Seoul, earlier in the morning. Around noon, the body of Lee Doo-hyeon, 40, was discovered."

South Korea’s Unification Minister, Hyun In-taek, stopped short of calling the incident a deliberate attack, but told legislators that the North "had intentions" when it released the water. He later elaborated: "I think the North did it intentionally," according to the Korea Times.

The remark is "the first claim by a high-ranking Seoul official that the release of water down from the Imjin River was intentional," reports The Korea Herald, adding:

South Korea had previously said it was looking into all possibilities that may have caused the North to release so much water without prior warning.

North Korean officials admitted that the released the water, but claimed they did it only to offset dangerously rising waters on their side. But the South shot back that the explanation wasn’t good enough, since there have not been any downpours recently to create such rises. Seoul was also upset at the North’s failure to express enough regret.

Observers are worried the dispute will worsen relations. Some commentators say the ball is in North Korea’s court to make amends, according to an editorial in The Hankyoreh, a Korean newspaper:

If North Korea provides a satisfactory explanation and expresses regret or remorse, it is possible the two sides will move into talks to prepare a mechanism to prevent a reoccurrence. It is possible, however, that North Korea will not respond to South Korea’s demands, and claim that no further explanation is needed. There is concern that in this case, inter-Korean relations, which have recently shown signs of improvement, could worsen. This could then become a situation similar to the shooting of the tourist at North Korea’s Mt. Kumgang, when the two sides failed to reach a breakthrough.

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