The remains of three victims from a sudden flood at the Imjin River near the border with North Korea are loaded onto an ambulance after being recovered by a firefighting helicopter in the lower reaches of the river Monday morning. The bodies of the remaining three persons, who were swept away by an upsurge of water from a dam in North Korea, have yet to be accounted for as of Monday evening. / Korea Times Photo by Hong In-ki
By Kang Hyun-kyung
North Korea said Monday that water levels in the Imjin River on its side of the border rose last week, leading it to open a dam's sluice gates from Saturday night through Sunday morning to discharge the excess.
The Stalinist country promised to give prior warning to the South if it needs to release dam water in the future.
South Korea still expressed regret, saying the North's explanation was insufficient in clearing up questions about a resulting deadly flash flood that killed three people and left three others missing Sunday.
Seoul said Pyongyang didn't mention the casualties caused by the unannounced discharge, adding that it would seek an inter-Korean accord to prevent a recurrence.
Earlier in the morning, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs sent a letter protesting the North Korean action.
The Ministry of Unification is investigating the North's motives in collaboration with other ministries.
Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said the government had found little evidence to date that suggested any ``malicious'' intent behind the action.
Asked if the incident could worsen inter-Korean relations that have shown signs of progress following a set of conciliatory gestures from the North, Hyun remained cautious, saying the government will wait and see how North Korea reacts.
During a meeting of related vice ministers at the Government Complex in Seoul later in the day, the administration decided to upgrade its alert system.
In addition, work to construct the Gunnam Dam near the Military Demarcation Line will be completed by June next year as originally planned, a spokesman said.
The reaction came after six campers in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi Province, were swept away Sunday after the North opened sluice gates at the dam. Three of them were found dead Monday.
About 2,500 rescue workers began searching early Monday, with helicopters, boats and diving equipment deployed to aid search efforts.
Rescue workers found the body of 40-year old Suh Gang-il near the downstream area of Samhwa Bridge at 10:22 a.m.
They found two more victims, identified as Kim Dae-geon, 39, and Lee Kyung-joo, 38, near the area within an hour.
Military officials from South Korea and the United States have been working closely to determine the North's motives.
Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said that the joint team has yet to identify whether or not the incident was an attack.
The governing Grand National Party (GNP) denounced the North over the incident, calling it an inhumane criminal act.
``If North Korea went ahead with the unannounced discharge of waters even though they knew that it could kill South Koreans, it is a provocative act,'' said Rep. Ahn Sang-soo, floor leader of the party.
Ahn urged North Korea to issue an explanation about the incident.
Some ruling party lawmakers, meanwhile, called on the government to come up with effective measures to prevent a recurrence.
Rep. Gong Sung-jin said it was not a natural calamity but an incident that could have been prevented if the government had prepared for it earlier.
He rebuked the government, saying its response was not effective and that those who were responsible should be punished.