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Defense chief confirms explosive chemical found in sunken ship

All Headlines 12:07 May 10, 2010

By Chang Jae-soon

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- Defense Minister Kim Tae-young confirmed Monday that South Korea has found traces of a powerful bomb ingredient used in making torpedoes in the wreckage of a naval ship that sank near the border with North Korea.

The detection of the explosive substance, known as RDX, has put the "possibility of a torpedo" above others as to what sank the 1,200-ton patrol ship Cheonan on March 26, though no conclusion has been made, Kim told reporters.

Kim also said that South Korea collected some aluminum fragments from the scene of the sinking, which were different from what the ill-fated vessel was made of, Kim said.

The minister, however, did not mention North Korea specifically.

The communist nation is a suspect in the deadly incident, which took place in waters near the Koreas' tense Yellow Sea border where the sides fought deadly skirmishes in 1999, 2002 and most recently in November last year.

Pyongyang has denied any responsibility in the latest incident.

"The defense ministry has made its utmost effort to determine the cause of the Cheonan's sinking without a speck of suspicion," Kim said.

RDX, which stands for research department explosive, is a white crystalline solid and is considered the most powerful high explosive. It is a main ingredient in plastic explosives.

Kim said the substance is widely used in countries around the world, rejecting some media reports that it is used only in Western nations. Those reports have led to some speculation that the traces found in the sunken ship might have been left-over residue of South Korean weapons used in drills in the area.

Kim also appealed to the media not to be swayed by persistent, groundless speculations, including one that the ship might have run aground.

"The multinational, civilian-military joint investigation team will do their best to clearly determine the exact cause of the external explosion through analyzing the chemical detected and metal fragments as well as through (computer) simulation," he said.

"I ask the people and the media to be patient and wait until the official announcement is made," he said.

South Korea has invited foreign specialists to take part in the investigation in a bid to ensure the probe is transparent and objective. About two dozen experts from the United States, Australia, Sweden and Britain have been working with South Korean experts to determine the cause.

The sinking, which killed 46 sailors, is one of South Korea's worst naval tragedies.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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