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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

South Korean Families Hold Funeral for Lost Sailors

Kurt Achin | Seoul 29 April 2010

South Korea's president has joined family members in a funeral service for dozens of sailors lost in last month's sinking of a naval warship. Underlying the day's emotion are lingering suspicions that North Korea may have had a direct role in the deaths.

As names were called out, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak placed a flower and bowed at photos of each and every one of the 46 sailors killed last month in waters west of the Korean peninsula. Their navy warship, the Cheonan, was patrolling near a maritime border disputed by North Korea, when an explosion ripped it in half and sank it.

A rifle salute and other military honors were part of Thursday's proceedings, attended by South Korea's most prominent leaders at a naval base in Pyeongtaek, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul.

Chief Petty Officer Kim Hyun-rae, one of the survivors of the sinking, offered an emotional eulogy. He repeatedly said he is sorry - sorry for leaving his dead shipmates behind.

Kim and 57 others were rescued shortly after the ship went down. Six bodies from the Cheonan's roster remain missing.

The funeral brought to a close a five-day period of national mourning, in which hundreds of thousands of South Koreans paid respects at temporary altars around the country.

Broadcasters carried live images of grieving family members at the ceremony to a nationwide audience.

The area the Cheonan was patrolling has been the site of three naval clashes between North and South Korea. Pyongyang has never recognized a United Nations-mandated sea border there. South Korean officials have been careful not to blame the North explicitly, but speculation is mounting that a North Korean torpedo attack may have brought the ship down.

Navy Chief of Staff Kim Sung-chan told mourners that those responsible will be held to account. He says we will never forgive whoever inflicted "this great pain." He vows to track down the perpetrators and make them pay.

Even if hard evidence emerges indicating the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean attack, South Korean military retaliation is widely seen as unthinkable. There is a risk such action could rapidly escalate and market analysts warn it would startle the foreign investors South Korea's economy depends on. Instead, Seoul has signaled it would make an international appeal to the United Nations Security Council.

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