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(LEAD) U.S. sees no link between N. Korea and sinking of S. Korean ship: USFK chief

All Headlines 15:19 April 06, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with additional remarks from Gen. Sharp, background in paras 8-13)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) -- The United States has not seen any link between North Korea and the sinking of a South Korean warship last month near their Yellow Sea border, the chief of U.S. Forces Korea said Tuesday.

Gen. Walter Sharp also said that South Korea and the U.S. are forming a joint investigative team to determine the exact cause of the March 26 sinking of the 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan. One sailor has been confirmed dead, and 45 others are also feared dead, though they are still listed as missing.

"We, the United States and the Republic of Korea, are forming a joint investigative team and after we get the ship up, we will have the best experts from Korea and the United States really go over and determine what was the cause of this incident," the commander said in a luncheon with the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, referring to South Korea by its official name.

Sharp noted there was widely circulated speculation about North Korea's possible involvement, but that no direct evidence has been found.

"We, as Combined Forces Command and the ROK Joint Chief of Staff, watch North Korea very closely every single day of the year and we continue to do that right now. And again, as this has been said, we see no unusual activity at this time," he told the meeting.

The American general declined to speculate on what might have caused the tragic incident.

"We want to get the right answer, the correct answer and we don't want to rush to that conclusion, to any conclusion as to what was the cause of the incident," he said.

Sharp, also the commander of South Korean-U.S. Combined Forces Command and United Nations Command here, defended the scheduled transfer of the wartime operational control (OPCON) of South Korean troops from the U.S. to South Korea.

"OPCON transition, as some people have portrayed, does not mean that the Republic of Korea has to have independent and self-reliant forces. We, the U.S., are committed to provide capabilities, very similar to what we are dong right now, the capabilities that we need to be able to fight and win if North Korea were ever to attack," he said.

The USFK commander also dismissed concerns that the upcoming change in the command structure of the Korean and U.S. combined forces could undermine their fighting capabilities.

"The operation plans, the organizations, the processes we are setting up that will be ready to take command on 17 April 2012 are not against North Korea of yesterday or today," said Sharp. "They are against North Korea of what we see... We continue to adjust, take and account North Korea capabilities and both the Republic of Korea and U.S. capabilities."

South Korea transferred control over its troops to the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul regained peacetime control of its forces in 1994, but wartime control still lies in the hands of the chief of the U.S. military stationed here.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed across South Korea as a deterrent against the North.


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