- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 2, 2010

SEOUL (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday issued a lengthy point-by-point denial that it torpedoed a South Korean warship, days after talks with the American-led U.N. Command over the sinking ended with no major breakthrough.

An international investigation concluded that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that sank the 1,200-ton Cheonan in March near the tense Korean sea border, killing 46 sailors. Tension on the Korean peninsula subsequently spiked, with North Korea flatly denying involvement and warning any punishment would mean war.

The U.N. Command, which oversees the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, has held a series of talks with North Korea to discuss the sinking since July, but each meeting has ended with no agreement. In the latest meeting last Wednesday, North Korea said it demanded that the United States and South Korea bring their key evidence linking the North to the sinking to a border village, while the U.N. Command remained focused on its calls for higher-level talks.

On Tuesday, North Korea’s powerful National Defense Commission published an approximately 7,000-word statement accusing the South Korean-led investigation of fabricating data in its report. The United States was also part of the investigation.

North Korea “decided to disclose before the world what sheer fabrication and conspiratorial farce they orchestrated on the basis of information gathered so far,” said the statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. The two countries “will never be able to escape the sledgehammer blow of the times and history for their fabrication,” it said.

North Korea disputed the probe’s conclusion that an aluminum torpedo sank the warship, saying all of its torpedoes are made of steel alloy. The statement said the North is willing to hand over parts of one of its torpedoes to South Korea for verification.

It said the “No. 1” marking that the investigation said was found on the torpedo parts was written in a style different from the one used in North Korea and should have been burned off in the intense heat of the blast.

The investigation also said a North Korean submarine was found to have left a west coast naval port two or three days before the sinking, but no submarine is based at that location, the statement said.

The statement came four days after the two Koreas briefly exchanged gunfire along their heavily fortified border. The gunfire again raised tension, which earlier had eased after North Korea made several conciliatory gestures, before world leaders gather in Seoul next week for the Group of 20 summit of leading rich and developing countries.

In Seoul, the Joint Chiefs of Staff dismissed North Korea’s latest denials as “nothing new.”

A JCS officer said South Korea already has provided explanations to counter such claims, citing satellite photos showing submarines at the North Korean naval base and testimonies by defectors about the numeral marking on torpedoes. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity citing office policy.

“North Korea intends to deal with the Cheonan case more actively” following the U.N. Command’s rejection of its proposal, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies.

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