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Seoul, Washington Threaten North Korea

The Militant, Vol.60 no.37, 21 October 1996

Seoul stepped up its war threats against north Korea on October 7. South Korean president Kim Young-Sam warned that day of a full-scale military confrontation if the north Korean government in Pyongyang continues its armed provocation. The threats were leveled after a north Korean submarine ran aground off south Korea's east coast September 18. South Korean troops pursued and killed most of the crew. Seoul is now pressing for a resolution at the United Nations Security Council to condemn the landing.

The Kim Young-Sam administration is waging a campaign to isolate the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), claiming the incident was an attempt by Pyongyang to land guerrillas for a sabotage or assassination mission. According to the Financial Times of London, the head of south Korea's intelligence service said the incident was a prelude to guerrilla warfare waged by the DPRK government.

The north Korean People's Armed Forces issued a statement September 22 explaining the submarine was engaged in a routine training mission when it developed engine trouble, ran aground, and struck a rock. The statement called for a return of the vessel and its crew, including of those killed.

It seemed that the crew was left with no other choice but to get to the land on the enemy side, which might cause an armed conflict, said a spokesperson for DPRK's armed forces.

The Seoul authorities immediately labeled the incident as a terrorist act, said the People's Korea published in Pyongyang. Some 40,000 south Korean troops were dispatched on a manhunt along with tracker dogs backed by helicopters.

Washington joined the posse September 25, supplying 12 U.S. Kiowa helicopters equipped with infrared radar that can track humans on the ground, said Col. John Reitz, a spokesman for the U.S. military in south Korea. The Washington Post reported that pilots and support personnel from the 37,000-strong U.S. force stationed in south Korea participated in the search mission.

The south Korean pursuers killed 22 of the 26-member submarine crew, who were lightly armed. Three south Korean troops died in gun battles. A mushroom picker was killed September 23 by south Korean soldiers who mistook him for one of the north Koreans.

According to an article in the September 23 Financial Times, U.S. military officials in Seoul believe the submarine intrusion may have been an accident resulting from mechanical problems or crew inexperience during a routine reconnaissance training exercise. The financial daily had stated earlier, There is little evidence that the North Koreans were engaged in a sabotage mission.

In light of this, Washington has so far refrained from publicly condemning the North Korean government. Obviously the episode is a matter of concern but the facts are so murky... it's impossible to assess, said U.S. secretary of state Warren Christopher.

Meanwhile, Seoul is pressuring other countries not to make investments, provide food aid and other humanitarian assistance to the DPRK. An impending famine is threatening the north Korean population after the worst floods in a century devastated crops last year. New floods of a smaller scale inflicted damage this year as well. The country received $8 million in food aid from Washington, $6 million from Tokyo, and $3 million from Seoul.

In another development, the north Korean Central News Agency announced September 6 that police arrested Evan Carl Hunzike, a U.S. citizen, for espionage. He admitted that he is a U.S. citizen, and he illegally entered [north Korea] for the purpose of getting information of its domestic situation, the agency reported. It has been proven by investigation that he was sent for espionage by south Korea's Agency for National Security Planning.