Military Leadership Adding to Cheonan Chaos with Contradictory Statements

30. März 2010

Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis: The Hankyoreh

 

Decidedly differing answers to key questions about the sinking of the Cheonan is leading observers to question whether the military is concealing the facts

As the cause of the sinking of the Cheonan remained unknown as of Tuesday, four days after the accident, the military has continued to add to the confusion by issuing differing explanations that change with each passing moment on such key questions as the exact time of the incident, the impact suffered by the boat, and the question of North Korean involvement. For this reason, many observers are questioning whether the military is concealing the facts.

When Did the Accident Occur?

At the heart of the controversy is the precise time during which the accident took place. The Joint Chiefs of Staff initially announced on Friday night that the accident took place at 9:45 p.m., but the next day, it revised the time to 9:30 p.m., fifteen minutes earlier. However, at a National Assembly National Defense Committee meeting on Monday, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young moved the time of the accident back another five minutes to 9:25 p.m.

In data released by the Korea Coast Guard on Sunday, however, the time of the accident was listed as 9:15 p.m. A 23-year-old woman identified by the surname Kim, girlfriend of missing 21-year-old petty officer Cha Gyun-seok, said that she had been exchanging text messages with Cha for around 40 minutes before the messages abruptly stopped at around 9:16 p.m. This circumstantial evidence indicates that the accident may have taken place earlier than the time announced by the Ministry of National Defense. Even among the militarys own announcements, there is a twenty-minute discrepancy.

The navy has maintained, Some degree of numerical error can arise in a chaotic situation. However, many observers are commenting that a discrepancy of at least 20 minutes could be a decisive factor in assessing the nature of the incident and the measures taken in response.

Explosion or Running Aground?
On Friday night, the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that the cause of the Cheonans sinking was a large hole in the ship. The next day, however, the captain of the Cheonan, Choi Won-il, met with family members of the missing sailors at the navys Second Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek and said, It went down in a second; it was half-destroyed and broken in two. Choi continued, I saw it with my own eyes.

But Go Yeong-jae, captain of Korea Coast Guard vessel No. 501, which rescued 56 of the sailors, said Tuesday, At around 9:34 p.m. on Friday, I received an order from the Coast Guard stating that a navy patrol ship had run aground in the waters 1.2 miles to the southwest of Baengnyeong Island, and that we were to move out there quickly to rescue them. The use of the term run aground suggests that the boat hit a reef, which differs substantially from the powerful explosion that the navy has been pointing to as the cause of the accident. It also agrees to some extent with accounts from survivors who said that there was no fire or smell of fuel at the scene of the accident.

When asked by journalists on Sunday whether there were reefs in the area where the accident took place, Ministry of National Defense spokesman Won Tae-jae said, We have not confirmed whether or not there are reefs.

Different Stories on the Possibility of North Korean Involvement

With regard to the possibility of North Korean involvement, subtle temperature differences can be detected even within the military. In his National Assembly report on Saturday, Lee Ki-sik, head of the marine operations office at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ruled out the possibility, saying, No North Korean warships have been detected, and there is no possibility of their approaching the waters where the accident took place. But at the National Assembly National Defense Committee meeting on Monday, Kim Tae-young strongly hinted at the possibility of North Korean involvement. North Korean could do something and then maintain their silence in order to cover it up, or it could be intended to avoid misunderstandings or to maximize the provocation.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young himself has even changed his own story. When asked at the National Defense Committee about the possibility that the accident was caused by a mine, he replied, In 2008, when I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there was talk about mines, so we collected all of them. Minister Kim added, There is no possibility it was a mine. But when some of the lawmakers pointed out that the possibility of a mine floating up after being buried by various pressures at a low depth in the mud or flats should be noted in the investigation, Kim replied, It could have been a North Korean mine that floated into our area.

Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von:  The Hankyoreh, 2010-03-30

 

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