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US to Assist S. Korea in Probe of Sunken Warship


The commander of American forces stationed in Korea says he is confident a team of U.S. experts will help South Korea find out what caused a South Korean warship to sink in disputed waters last month. He says it is still to early to infer any North Korean role in the incident.

U.S. General Walter Sharp says there have been no alarming military movements by North Korea since the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, last month.

"We watch North Korea very closely every single day of the year, and we see no unusual activity at this time," he said.

Sharp commands about 28,000 U.S. forces stationed here in South Korea. The two countries have maintained a military alliance for decades to deter any repeat of North Korea's 1950 invasion of the South.

A team of American experts is expected to be in place here in South Korea by next week, to work closely with South Korean authorities in the investigation of last month's sinking of a South Korean navy corvette. The ship was patrolling waters west of the Korean peninsula, where North Korea has long disputed a maritime border with the South. Forty-five South Korean sailors are presumed to have lost their lives after an apparent explosion split the ship in half.

The two Koreas have fought at least three naval skirmishes in the region. Some South Koreans are speculating a North Korean role in the sinking, possibly using a torpedo.

General Sharp says he agrees with an earlier statement by President Lee Myung-bak, that accuracy of information is more important than speedy conclusions.

"We don't want to rush to any conclusion as to what was the cause of the incident... so I'm not going to speculate on this... It just wouldn't be appropriate or informed to be able to do that," he said.

Sharp says he is confident that combined U.S. and South Korean know-how will fill in the picture of what happened soon enough.

"Talking to my Navy folks that have done this in other places, they're absolutely confident that with the teams that's being formed of those experts, we'll be able to figure out exactly what happened," he said.

Poor weather conditions have hampered attempts to reach the hull of the sunken ship, in the past few days. A key question for the salvage crews will be whether the blast was directed inward - indicating a likely attack - or outward, indicating a malfunction on board.

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