Ruling Camp Differs Over NK Involvement in Disaster
By Kang Hyun-kyung
The naval disaster, which took the life of one sailor and left 45 others missing, has led the ruling party to face off with the government over North Korea's involvement in the tragedy.
No one knows exactly what caused the explosion that caused the frigate Cheonan to split in two and sink in the West Sea near the maritime border between South and North Korea on the night of March 26.
But many legislators of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) appeared to be convinced that the North is responsible.
They point their fingers at North Korean military hardliners, who were reportedly responsible for previous bellicose acts, as the driving force of the incident.
Politicians appear to be resorting to the ``red scare'' tactic to drum up support as the June 2 local elections approach.
Conservatives tend to consider the security card as an effective weapon to win elections.
In contrast Cheong Wa Dae is looking beyond short-sighted partisan interest, calling on GNP lawmakers not to jump to premature conclusions.
Hundreds of millions of eyes are watching Korea as it is to host the G-20 summit in Seoul in November.
If the nation reverts to a red scare without solid evidence, it could deal a severe blow to the nation's image, the presidential office said.
During an interpellation session Wednesday, Rep. Lee Sung-hun of the GNP said he thought a few hardliners in North Korea's military were probably involved in the incident.
Citing the professional view of a military expert, the lawmaker claimed that the Cheonan seemed to have been hit by a torpedo from a North Korean submarine.
``Situational factors also support this,'' he alleged.
``The incident came when the South Korean Navy was on a military drill in the West Sea. Shortly before the explosion, South Korean military and the U.S. conducted the annual Key Resolve operation there.''
Another GNP legislator Chung Ok-nim said in an interview that she and her fellow GNP lawmakers shared a hunch that North Korea played a role in the disaster.
However, they will try to be low-key with regard to this until they find concrete evidence to support their view, she said.
The nation's spy chief, however, denied the speculation.
Won Se-hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, was quoted as saying during a parliamentary committee session that to his knowledge, there was no direct link between North Korea and the sunken ship.
In response to Rep. Lee's question, Prime Minister Chung Un-chan repeated that the government should keep all options open when it came to investigating the cause and would examine the case thoroughly.
``The nation will host the G-20 summit this year. The world is watching us,'' he said.
Chung indicated that Korea would be able to project a better image when an objective and through investigation of the naval disaster is underway.
Several high-profile government officials, including Chung, reiterated that the nation will be able to figure out what went wrong only after taking a close look at the status of the ship.
Salvage of the ship must come first, and there should be no speculation before the investigation, they said
Before the wait-and-see position, the presidential office showed signs of zig-zagging over the role of North Korea in the maritime tragedy.
Presidential spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye made it clear last week that the office had not ruled out the possibility of the involvement of the North.
There was a shift after she made the statement.
President Lee Myung-bak and his aides noted that nothing could be confirmed regarding the sunken ship.
The cautious position came days after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that he had heard nothing to implicate any other country in the incident.
``Obviously, the full investigation needs to go forward. But to my knowledge, there is no reason to believe or to be concerned that that may have been the cause,'' he said.