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U.N. body probes North Korea's possible truce violation

SEOUL (Reuters) - The United Nations Command (UNC) has launched an investigation into whether North Korea violated the Korean War armistice by sinking one of the South’s naval ships, the U.N. body said on Saturday.

North Korea denounced the probe as a “bogus mechanism.”

On Thursday, the South announced the results of an investigation which concluded a North Korean submarine had in March fired a torpedo that sank the Cheonan corvette, killing 46 sailors.

The UNC said in a statement it had convened a special team to review the findings of the investigation and to “determine the scope of the armistice violation” that occurred with the sinking of the Cheonan.

The team, which includes 11 countries -- Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, Sweden and Switzerland -- would report their findings to the United Nations, it added.

North Korea has denied the sinking accusation and said it is ready to tear up all agreements with the South, with which it remains technically at war under a truce that ended fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War.

“It is the stand of the North side that there is no justification to plug such bogus mechanism as the ‘Military Armistice Commission’ into the case as it was faked up by the South side to be an issue between the North and the South from its outset,” the North’s National Defense Commission was quoted as saying by the communist state’s official KCNA news agency.

Navy soldiers stand guard near the wreckage of the naval vessel Cheonan, which was sunk on March 26 near the maritime border with North Korea, at the Second Fleet Command's naval base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, May 19, 2010. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

Pyongyang said on Saturday it wanted to send its own investigators across the border, repeating that it would like to make its own assessment of the South Korean investigation.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry officials said the government would reject the request.


South Korea said after a rare emergency security meeting on Friday it would respond prudently to the sinking of Cheonan, while Washington has called for an international response.

Lee is expected to announce his response early next week.

An international response could range from fresh U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea, although those might be opposed by China, to a statement of condemnation by the world body.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is currently visiting North Asia, where Pyongyang’s sinking of the Cheonan will top the agenda. She will visit Seoul next week.

Pyongyang has warned the peninsula was being driven to war.

North Korea has often threatened to attack Seoul but most analysts say that, in the face of a much better equipped South Korean army backed by some 28,000 U.S. troops on the peninsula, any major confrontation would be suicidal for Pyongyang.

South Korea has repeatedly said it would not strike back at the North, aware that would frighten away investors already jittery about the escalating tension on the divided peninsula.

Editing by Jeremy Laurence