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Retrieved stern of sunken S. Korean navy warship arrives in its home port

All Headlines 21:10 April 17, 2010

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea, April 17 (Yonhap) -- The tattered stern of a South Korean naval warship that mysteriously exploded and sank near the western sea border with North Korea arrived in its home port Saturday for investigation.

A giant barge carrying the wreckage weighing some 500 tons was towed into the 2nd Navy Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers southwest of Seoul shortly after 7 p.m.

A multinational team of investigators, including those from the United States and Australia, waited on shore for the arrival of the stern. Officials said missiles and other weapons on aboard will be removed Sunday before a probe begins in earnest.

The 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan with a crew of 104 broke into two following a mysterious explosion and sank near the Yellow Sea border on March 26. Fifty-eight sailors were rescued but at least 38 others have been confirmed dead. Eight are still unaccounted for.

According to a preliminary investigation announced on Friday, an external explosion is believed to have hit the ship while on a routine patrol near the maritime border with North Korea.

South Korea has not conclusively said who is to blame but suspicion has grown that North Korea might have played a part.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce. Their navies have clashed in the area three times in the past 11 years, most recently in November.

On Saturday, North Korea denied its involvement, accusing South Korea's conservative government of fabricating such suspicion to boost its position ahead of upcoming local elections.

South Korea says it has yet to rule out any possibilities, including a collision with a reef or a renegade mine, an internal blast or an attack by a North Korean submarine that had slipped past its military surveillance.

South Korean officials said more details will be known when the front part of the sunken ship is retrieved, possibly early next week.

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