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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

South Korea calls off search for missing sailors

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW, April 4 (RIA Novosti) - South Korea has called off a rescue operation for more than 40 sailors who remain unaccounted for since a warship sank last week in the Yellow Sea, the South Korean Yonhap news agency has said.

The 1,200 ton Navy corvette Cheonan with 104 crew members on board sank in unexplained circumstances on March 26 near the disputed maritime border with North Korea. A total of 46 sailors are still missing.

Yonhap said families of the lost sailors asked the military to suspend the operation for fear of additional casualties.

"We called off a rescue operation... at 11pm [14:00 GMT Saturday] following the request from the relatives," the navy spokesman was quoted by the BBC as saying. He said the operation will now focus on salvaging the wreck.

Earlier, Yonhap said the South Korean military had recovered the body of a crew member of a fishing boat that is believed to have sunk while returning from a search for clues to last week's naval disaster.

The ship was reportedly lost several hours after it concluded its search.

The March 26 incident forced South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to convene two emergency security meetings. The president ordered a "quick and thorough" investigation into the incident. There was no sign that North Korea was involved.

The exact cause of the incident has not been revealed, but media reports have said an unidentified explosion could have made a hole in the ship's bottom.

The border between the two Koreas was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command in the wake of the 1950-1953 Korean War and has been a sticking point between the North and the South.

Pyongyang has not acknowledged the borderline and has drawn a new one on its own south of the current border. Naval clashes between the two states over the disputed area took place in 1999, 2002, 2009 and this year.

The two countries remain technically at war as their conflict ended only in an armistice in 1953.

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