South Korea freezes North Korea money ahead of Cheonan warship sinking report

South Korea on Monday froze funds for government exchanges with the North, a possible sign that Seoul is preparing for the results from an investigation into the March 26 Cheonan warship sinking that killed 46.

By , Correspondent

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    In this April 24 file photo, a giant offshore crane salvages the bow section of the South Korean naval Cheonan warship off Baengnyeong Island, South Korea. South Korea said Monday it froze funds for North Korea, ahead of Cheonan sinking report.
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South Korea said Monday it was freezing government funds for North Korea, just days before the findings of an international investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan warship are scheduled for release.

Tensions have been high since the Cheonan was torn in half by an unexplained explosion and sank on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors. It is widely suspected that the explosion came from a North Korean torpedo, but the South has avoided directly accusing the North, saying it will wait until the results of the investigation are announced.

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But South Korea's decision to scale back contact with North Korea may be a sign that it is preparing for the probe’s findings, which will be released by Thursday. The South suspended funding for government-level exchanges with North Korea at 10 ministries. Seoul has already asked South Korean companies not to ink new deals with Pyongyang or send resources across the border, reports Agence France-Presse.

Relations between the two sides have worsened since the sinking. South Korea on Saturday fired warning shots at North Korean naval boats in Southern waters, and the North on Sunday threatened to stop South Koreans from crossing into the North. The North last month barred access to South Korean assets at a jointly-run mountain resort.

After the Cheonan report is released the South is expected to ask the United Nations Security Council to place new sanctions on the culprit. AFP reports that the South is also considering halting trade with the North and resuming loudspeaker broadcasts on the border that criticize the North’s regime in Pyongyang.

Because Russia and China have vetoes on the Security Council the South is hoping to present “a smoking gun” indicating the North’s involvement. That would leave Russia and China little room to oppose more sanctions on Pyongyang. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young has said the report will leave little doubt as to who was responsible and after its release South Korea would “work out the next step in a clear and stern manner.”

According to an editorial in South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo:

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who visited Gyeongju on Saturday to attend a meeting with the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan, said, "A scientific and objective investigation is important." Yang's comments show that Beijing will consider a response only if it determines that the results of South Korea's investigation are scientific and objective enough. If the announcement fails to convince Beijing, it would become difficult to get the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against North Korea.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports that the South will send a letter to the chairman of the Security Council immediately following the release of the probe’s report, initiating the appeal to the council. The South will probably brief China, Japan, and Russia before the report is released in an attempt to make their case for cooperation in the Security Council.

In a possible sign that China is not willing to support Pyongyang unquestioningly, it apparently denied North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s request for economic aid on his recent trip to Beijing, reports Bloomberg. The reclusive North Korean leader had made his first trip to Beijing in four years to request assistance for the North’s devastated economy.

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