Go to contents

NK Claims Deadly Dam Discharge Was `Accidental`

Posted September. 08, 2009 08:26,   


Most of the six South Koreans who were swept away by North Korea’s sudden dam discharge Sunday have been found dead, fueling criticism of Pyongyang.

The North made an unusually prompt response to South Korea’s protest over the discharge, saying a sudden surge of water in the Hwanggang Dam prompted a massive discharge. Pyongyang also said it will issue alerts to prevent a recurrence.

The South Korean government also faced criticism over its lukewarm attitude toward the incident.

○ Silence invites harsh criticism

Pyongyang made no response to Seoul’s request for an explanation until late yesterday afternoon. Without the North’s cooperation, the case could prove as problematic as last year’s killing of a South Korean tourist in the North’s Mount Kumgang area.

At the time, the North’s Guidance Bureau for Comprehensive Development of Scenic Spots announced a statement but declined to pursue a joint probe into the shooting.

In 2002, the North expressed regret a month after it waged the second battle in the Yellow Sea June 29.

Pyongyang’s cold response to the dam discharge invited criticism from politicians in Seoul.

At a supreme council meeting at the National Assembly, yesterday, ruling Grand National Party floor leader Ahn Sang-soo said, “If North Korea discharged water from the dam without notification even though it understood that an unannounced discharge could take the lives of South Koreans camping nearby the border, North Korea’s act is no different than an inhumane provocation. North Korea should apologize for its unannounced discharge.”

The main opposition Democratic Party took a calmer approaching. At its supreme council meeting, party leader Chung Sye-kyun said, “The two Koreas should establish systematic measures via mutual agreement.”

○ Criticism over Seoul’s lukewarm attitude

Seoul has taken a cautious approach in arguing that Pyongyang’s explanation of the dam discharge is more important than an apology. South Korea said it will consider whether to demand an apology after investigating the incident and cause.

Nevertheless, calls for the North to apologize are growing in the South since its unannounced discharge killed South Koreans, whether the discharge was deliberate or was an accident.

The initial response of the South Korean Unification Ministry is also under fire. The ministry released a single-page announcement 14 hours after one of the campers was found dead alongside the Imjin River at 5 a.m. Sunday.

The ministry’s announcement also contained the phrase “According to the Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Ministry and the Korea Water Resource Corp.” to apparently avoid taking responsibility for the statement.

The ministry also cited as the cause of the discharge “an unexpected surge in water volume coming down from North Korea.”

○ Deliberate attempt vs. internal problems

South Korean and U.S. military authorities are seeking to find scientific evidence reflecting North Korea’s intent. South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-je said, “We have yet to find any signs indicating it was a North Korean attack.”

Other officials said they found no signs of “intentional provocations” such as a sudden increase in communication traffic of North Korea’s military units nearby the Hwanggang Dam.

As South Korean and U.S. intelligence attempt to understand North Korea’s intentions and investigate the discharge’s cause, a new theory is gaining support. The theory says Pyongyang’s decision-making process might have gone into disarray.

Those supporting the theory say an event out of the control of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appeared since his attempt to hand over his power to his third son Jong Un has faced obstacles.

A Seoul official said, “It’s hard to believe that the North intentionally discharged water to attack the South at a time when the North Korean leader has made much effort to improve Pyongyang’s relations with Washington and Seoul. But it is possible that supporters of Kim Jong Un intentionally discharged the water."

"Even if this is the case, they might not have thought that the unannounced water discharge could kill innocent South Koreans.”

kyle@donga.com mhpark@donga.com