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(2nd LD) N. Korea may have intentionally discharged dam water: minister

All Headlines 17:30 September 09, 2009

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; UPDATES throughout with more quotes from minister in paras 6-8, parliament speaker's remarks at bottom)

SEOUL, Sept. 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korea may have intentionally discharged water from a dam that caused the deaths of six South Koreans camping or fishing downriver, Seoul's point man on the North said Wednesday, adding that the government was still looking into the North's exact motives.

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told parliament that the government believes the North deliberately discharged some 40 million tons of water from its Hwanggang Dam north of the demilitarized zone on Sunday.

"It appears that the North did it intentionally," Hyun said when asked by lawmakers whether the dam discharge was deliberate or a mistake.

The remark, made at a session of the foreign affairs committee, was the first by a top government official indicating that the release of water down the Imjin River was deliberate. South Korea had previously said it was looking into all possibilities.

The North has told Seoul that it opened the dam due to a sudden surge in the water level and that it will notify the South in the future before such release.

In response to a follow-up question, Hyun noted that the North made clear that the discharge was intended, and that the government was still looking into the exact motive behind the decision.

The minister also said that, despite the lack of a concrete agreement, it is customary for countries to notify their neighbors of any planned dam discharge on shared waters.

"The North, as a co-owner of the river, should have obviously notified (us of the discharge)," the minister said, adding that the government would seek for a systematic solution through talks with North Korean authorities.

Chun Hae-sung, a Unification Ministry spokesperson, made clear that the minister did not mean to imply that the discharge was aimed at causing human casualties in the South.

"The minister's remark was intended to mean that the discharge itself was intentional, given that they admitted opening the dam in a letter sent to the South," Chun said. He stressed that Hyun wasn't giving his view on whether the dam release was a possible attack against the South.

The minister also said that Seoul will "carefully review" whether to ask the North for compensation for casualties and damage caused by the discharge.

South Korea's rescue workers on Wednesday recovered the bodies of three campers who went missing in the flood, thereby accounting for all six victims.

In a report to parliament, the Unification Ministry said that the government will "seek proper measures" based on the North's reaction and analysis of the incident with related agencies. It will also review whether to hold talks with North Korea over future flood prevention measures, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, the defense ministry said that Seoul plans to increase surveillance activities on the North Korean dam as a precautionary measure to prevent a recurrence of the incident.

Seoul on Tuesday demanded a more thorough explanation and an apology from Pyongyang over the incident, saying its response was not acceptable.

Kim Hyung-o, South Korea's parliamentary speaker, also demanded an official apology from the North's Workers' Party.

In a letter addressed to Choe Thae-bok, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea, Kim said it would be difficult for the North to be accepted as a "serious member" of the international community and a partner in the inter-Korean relationship unless it holds itself accountable for the loss of human lives.


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