South Korean President Lee Myung-bak promised “stern action” against North Korea on Thursday after a multinational group of investigators found concrete evidence linking the North to the sinking of his country’s warship in March.
An investigation into the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan turned up two key pieces of evidence — traces of explosives and part of a propeller — linked to North Korea.
U.S. and East Asian officials, speaking on background due to the highly sensitive nature of the investigation, said TNT found at the site has been identified as identical to explosives in a North Korean torpedo that South Korea recovered from its southern coast seven years ago.
Investigators also found that Korea’s Hangul script was used in the serial number engraved on the torpedo propeller, the officials said.
“The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine,” the multinational team said in its report, according to an Agence France-Presse dispatch. “There is no other plausible explanation.”
The report said torpedo parts salvaged from the site of the Cheonan sinking “perfectly match the schematics of the CHT-02D torpedo included in introductory brochures provided to foreign countries by North Korea for export purposes.”
Investigators from South Korea, the U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada and Sweden probed the Cheonan sinking.
Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters Wednesday the U.S. has been “deeply and actively involved in all aspects of the investigation and the United States strongly supports its conclusions.”
The Cheonan sank after an explosion in the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s west coast.
North Korea on Thursday denied responsibility and warned of “full-scale war” if new sanctions are imposed, according to Seoul’s Yonhap news agency.
Analysts said the findings diminish any hope of a resumption of six-party talks to denuclearize North Korea and will pressure China to support sanctions on Pyongyang, with which it shares cordial relations.
Besides the two Koreas, the U.S., Russia, China and Japan are part of the stalled six-party talks.
Jae Ku, director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said there was enough forensic evidence to tie North Korea to the sinking of the Cheonan.
“This is a pretty clear-cut case that the ship was hit by a torpedo. There is forensic evidence that it was a North Korean torpedo,” Mr. Ku said.
Bruce Bechtol, a professor of international relations at the Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College in Quantico, Va., said the torpedo used in the incident was a Yu-3, originally manufactured by China.