South Korea complains to U.N. over North's "blatant" act

UNITED NATIONS/SINGAPORE Fri Jun 4, 2010 3:11pm EDT

1 of 26. A North Korean soldier keeps watch over South Korea while wearing a battle helmet at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, about 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul June 2, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

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UNITED NATIONS/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - South Korea took its dispute with North Korea to the U.N. Security Council on Friday, saying Pyongyang must admit to sinking its warship and that its "reprehensible" action was endangering peace.

A letter handed to the Security Council in New York by Seoul's U.N. ambassador, Park In-kook, asked the 15-nation body to take action to deter "further provocation by North Korea."

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, did not specify how Seoul wanted the council to respond to the sinking of the navy corvette Cheonan on March 26. Possible actions include sanctions or a resolution or statement condemning Pyongyang's behavior.

"My government requests that the Security Council duly consider this matter and respond in a manner appropriate to the gravity of North Korea's military provocation in order to deter recurrence of any further provocation by North Korea," it said.

After handing the letter to Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, current president of the council, Park told reporters only that, "We expect some action by the Security Council commensurate with the gravity of the situation."

Heller said he would consult with council members on how to proceed. One Western diplomat said there could be a brief procedural meeting on the issue next week.

Several diplomats said council members were unlikely to have a draft text in hand on Korea before they vote on a draft sanctions resolution against Iran over its nuclear program. Washington has said that vote is expected next week.

The United States, the South's biggest ally, said Seoul may not seek a full Security Council resolution because of rising tensions after the sinking of the Cheonan. Seoul said it would hold discussions with its allies to ensure action was taken.

"North Korea must admit its wrongdoing, it must pledge to never again engage in such reprehensible action," South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in Singapore. "This is in the interest of peace. This is in the interest of North Korea."

"If we are to once again tolerate North Korea's blatant act of violence, then I believe that will not promote but endanger the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and that of Northeast Asia," Lee told a security conference.

Lee's foreign policy adviser, Chung Min Lee, later told reporters that what action the Security Council should take "is something we have to work on in the days and weeks ahead."

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South Korea has blamed the North for torpedoing the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. The North denies responsibility and has accused the South of staging the incident to help Lee in local elections this week.

The United States has said it will back South Korea in any proceedings at the Security Council. However, diplomats have said China, a veto-wielding council permanent member and Pyongyang's only major ally, has made clear that Beijing would prefer not to take up the issue at the United Nations.

China, Western diplomats say, will not tolerate new sanctions against North Korea, while Seoul appears determined to have the council at least agree on some form of rebuke.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said planned joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises may not take place until it becomes clear what the United Nations will do.

"It may be that there's a desire first to see what can be accomplished at the U.N. and then think about next steps beyond that," Gates said at the security conference in Singapore.

A North Korean envoy said in Geneva on Thursday war could erupt at any time on the Korean peninsula and that the North's troops were on "full alert."

Admiral Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said there were no signs North Korea was preparing a nuclear test or moving troops toward the South.

"The rhetoric from North Korea is not unusual. But I think everyone in the region is watching North Korea very closely given their unpredictability," Willard said in Singapore.

He said the United States was prepared for a confrontation with the North, despite strains on U.S. forces from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was working in concert with South Korea's military on "training and exercise needs."

Lee, in his speech, stressed the need for the North to return to stalled six-party talks on ending its nuclear ambitions. "We must hammer out a grand bargain to fundamentally resolve the North Korean issue," he said.

(Additional reporting by Adam Entous in Singapore and Jack Kim in Seoul; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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