North and South Korea have again exchanged words over the sinking of a South Korean ship in 2010.
The two sides have been at odds over the cause of the sinking of the corvette Cheonan. A South Korean-led international team blamed the North for launching a torpedo attack on the ship, but Pyongyang denied the accusation.
On Tuesday, North Korea’s National Defense Commission repeated its position that it had nothing to do with the sinking and demanded that South Korea lift sanctions imposed after the incident.
The statement came two days ahead of the fifth anniversary of the sinking, in which 46 South Korean sailors died.
Seoul condemned the statement. “We have concluded the sinking of the Cheonan warship was caused by North Korea’s torpedo attack," Kim Min-seok, spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, told reporters Tuesday. "Our basic stance is that we cannot accept any excuses from Pyongyang in this regard."
Some analysts in Seoul saw the North Korean move as an attempt to deflect blame while trying to improve relations with the South.
“Pyongyang has to thaw relations with Seoul to cement Kim Jong Un’s rule and ease an economic burden. They are making a calculated move to circumvent the Cheonan. In this regard, their strategy is not to apologize for the incident while recognizing the need to improve inter-Korean relations,” said Cho Han-boem, a senior researcher at Seoul's state-run Korea Institute for National Unification.
The Cheonan, with 104 sailors on board, sank near the nations' disputed border in the Yellow Sea. Seoul responded by banning nearly all inter-Korean activities, except the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and has said it will not lift the sanctions unless Pyongyang takes “responsible steps” to compensate for the incident.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.