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North, South Korea Continue to Trade Accusations - 2002-07-08


North Korea is accusing South Korea of sending two warships across a disputed maritime border - a claim Seoul denies as groundless. The bitter talk follows a deadly naval clash between the two sides nine days ago. Analysts say the sea battle may have been partly prompted by Pyongyang's desire for revenge.

In a statement carried by the North's official state news agency late Sunday, the communist country called the alleged South Korean naval incursion a "dangerous act which may spark a new armed clash."

The South Korean Navy says it did conduct military exercises Sunday off the western coast of the peninsula, but denies its warships had ever crossed over into North Korean waters. The government in Seoul adds that the North will pay a high price if it ventures into the South's territorial waters again.

South Korea Sunday released a report saying it believes North Korea planned the attack on a South Korean patrol boat on June 29. The boat sank, killing four South Korean sailors and wounding 19. About 30 North Korean sailors are believed to have died during the 20-minute sea battle, which each side accuses the other of starting.

The clash was the worst between the two Koreas in three years. A similar naval gun battle in 1999 resulted in the sinking of a North Korean naval ship and numerous deaths among its crew.

In South Korea, the latest incident has renewed criticism of the government of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, whose "sunshine policy" of engaging the North has formed the cornerstone of his administration for the past four years. Some newspaper editorials have accused the government of risking national security to pursue reconciliation and peace.

One prominent national security analyst in Seoul, Professor Yu Suk-Ryul, says he believes there may be a bit of truth to that accusation. Mr. Yu says Pyongyang may have been seeking revenge for the 1999 naval incident and wanted to carry it out before a new, much-less-conciliatory government takes power in Seoul. "The timing is at the end of President Kim Dae-jung's government," he said. "If another government comes up which is very strong against North Korea, they could not attack the South's naval force. They would worry about a more hard attack on North Korea."

On December 19, South Koreans will elect a successor to Mr. Kim. The president is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term.

Polls in recent weeks have been showing the conservative opposition presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang pulling steadily ahead of the ruling party candidate, Roh Moo-hyun. Mr. Lee who narrowly lost to Kim Dae-jung in 1997, has vowed to scrap the "sunshine policy" in favor of tougher measures against the North.

The two sides have remained technically at war since the Korean War ended in 1953 in a truce, not a peace treaty.

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