The March 26 anniversary of the sinking of South Korean corvette Cheonan has always drawn rhetoric on who was to blame. This year, five years after the event which killed 46 South Koreans on board, has seen an escalation in finger pointing with North Korea accusing the U.S. of sinister intentions and abuse.
The Cheonan was on a training mission when it sank near the disputed Yellow Sea maritime border between North and South Korea. After a joint international investigation, South Korea’s government concluded that the vessel was hit by a torpedo from a North Korean submarine.
North Korea (DPRK) continues to deny responsibility and an official National Defence Commission statement issued this week says that: “The U.S. is the arch criminal that engineered the case by instigating the South Korean puppet forces. It was orchestrated by the U.S. out of its sinister intention to hold control of South Korea and Japan, use them as a shock brigade in realizing its ambition for world domination and intensify the moves to isolate and stifle the DPRK after securing justification for an arms buildup in the region.”
North Korea has continued to press for a “fair” investigation but says the U.S. has been uncooperative. The nation called on the U.S. to admit its wrongdoings and offer a belated apology.
Meanwhile, South Korea has called for an apology from North Korea saying the evidence is indisputable. According to the investigation, parts of a North Korean torpedo were recovered near the site.
In response to the tragedy, South Korea placed sanctions on the North and suspended large-scale aid - the May 24 measures. The sanctions ban all trading and commercial activities between the two nations except at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, and they put an end to most of inter-Korean projects created by two summit deals in 2000 and 2007.
South Korea expects the North to show contrition before the sanctions are lifted, creating a stumbling block for reconciliation between the two nations. “If the South truly wants to improve inter-Korean relations, they are urged to first lift the May 24 measures,” North Korea’s Cheonan statement said.
The stalemate is a dilemma for South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The sanctions were imposed by her predecessor Lee Myung-bak, but she has indicated throughout her tenure that she wants to work towards unification. In Germany last year, she proclaimed the “Dresden Initiative” for unification and economic cooperation. Nothing has been achieved, however, because of the May 24 measures.
Cheonan's stern was raised on April 15, 2010 with both South Korean and U.S. navies contributing to the rescue and recovery efforts. Seoul-based sailors and marines from the U.S. and South Korea participated in a remembrance service on March 24 to honor those lost. As well as the loss of 46 of the vessel’s 104 crew, a navy diver lost his life during the subsequent rescue efforts.
“The tragic loss of Cheonan and her brave sailors is a solemn reminder of the human cost of freedom," said Rear Admiral Lisa Franchetti, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea.