With criticism mounting over a visit by North Korea’s former spymaster suspected of having orchestrated attacks on South Korea, Seoul’s defense chief confirmed Wednesday that Kim Yong-chol’s organization was behind the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010.
During a meeting with lawmakers Wednesday, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said South Korea’s Cheonan warship was torpedoed by North Korea’s Yeono-class midget submarine belonging to that country’s top intelligence agency Reconnaissance General Bureau.
But the minister declined to say whether there is clear evidence linking the attack to Kim, who visited South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics. Kim was head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau in March 2010 when the South Korean warship was attacked.
“We can speculate about things in North Korea, but it’s impossible to confirm exactly what happened inside,” said Song during an emergency parliamentary inquiry at the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee.
Defense Minister Song Young-moo. Yonhap
Led by South Korea and the US, a multinational investigation team concluded that Cheonan was sunk by a torpedo launched by a North Korean Yeono-class submarine. The attack claimed the lives of 46 sailors and one naval warrant officer lost his life during the rescue operation.
South Korea’s top spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said last week that it is difficult to pinpoint the blame for the Cheonan sinking on Kim, saying further confirmation is needed to determine whether Kim gave direct orders to attack the warship.
Song, meanwhile, refuted the accusation that Kim and his delegates had traveled to Seoul via a road inside a restricted military area and that the Defense Ministry had been sidelined when the decision was made on that travel route.
“I watched the video (of Kim’s trip to Seoul) and received an explanation that the area was not problematic,” said Song. “I don’t agree with the view that the Defense Ministry was passed over. … I’m being briefed on everything.”
When traveling to South Korea on Sunday for a three-day visit, Kim and his delegation took a detour to avoid a sit-in protest by opposition lawmakers, who demanded accountability for Kim’s alleged role in the Cheonan sinking.
By Yeo Jun-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)