It is obvious North Korea sank our boat, says South

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South Korea's Foreign Minister said yesterday that it was "obvious" that North Korea fired a torpedo that sank one of the South's warships in March, killing 46 sailors.

Yu Myung-hwan said investigators had enough evidence of North Korean involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan to warrant taking Pyongyang to the UN Security Council and would be presenting their findings today.

Mr Yu's comments are the first by a South Korean official clearly pointing the finger at North Korea for one of the worst attacks on the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

An exhaustive investigation revealed that a "strong underwater explosion generated by the detonation of a torpedo caused the Korean battleship to split apart and sink," he said in a speech to Seoul-based European business executives. Asked later if North Korea sank the ship, he said: "I think it's obvious." He declined to provide further details ahead of the release of the multinational investigation.

North Korea has denied involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan near the Koreas' tense western maritime border on 26 March. North Korea's vice-parliamentary speaker Yang Hyong-sop criticised Seoul for "unreasonably" linking it to the sinking earlier this week, according to Pyongyang's state radio station.

However, investigators will lay out evidence showing that a North Korean torpedo attack triggered the explosion, a US official in Washington said. Fifty-eight sailors were rescued from the ship; 46 died.

Fragments of a torpedo propeller found near the site are similar to parts from a North Korean torpedo that South Korea obtained seven years ago, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported yesterday, citing unidentified government officials.

A serial number on the torpedo propeller was written in a font typically used in North Korea, and traces of explosives found in the wreckage resemble the gunpowder used in the North Korean torpedo retrieved in 2003, the newspaper said.

The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report, saying an 85-tonne North Korean submersible is believed to have torpedoed the vessel. Citing an unidentified government official, it said the conclusion was based on intelligence on the movement of North Korean submersibles and analyses of intercepted military communication.

The South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has vowed stern action against the culprits and discussed the matter by phone with Barack Obama and the Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, officials said.

Mr Yu called for "firm" action and pushed for support from the international community during the speech. Possible options include a request to the UN Security Council for tougher sanctions against the North, and for Washington to put Pyongyang back on its terrorism blacklist.

The investigation results and concerns about North Korea's nuclear programme are expected to dominate the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's talks this week and next with leaders in Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul, where she will finish an Asian trip next Wednesday.

The two Koreas remain divided by the world's most heavily guarded border. North Korea disputes the maritime border drawn in 1953, and the western waters have been the site of several deadly naval clashes since 1999.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, P J Crowley, said North Korea must "cease provocative acts, cease acts of aggression that destabilise the region", and urged it to follow through on past commitments to abandon its nuclear programmes.