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Minister, military leaders pay respect to Cheonan sailors

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and top military leaders paid their respects to the 46 deceased sailors of the ill-fated corvette Cheonan on Monday, a day before the third anniversary of its sinking by a North Korean torpedo attack.

To mark the third anniversary, the government is holding a memorial ceremony at Daejeon National Cemetery on Tuesday morning. President Park Geun-hye and some 5,000 people including the bereaved families are to attend.

At the ceremony, Park is expected to reiterate that South Korea will not tolerate any additional provocation by the North, and offer words of solace to the families of the sailors and Han Joo-ho, the chief warrant officer who died during a search and rescue operation.

Having just started his second term after controversy-laden minister designate Kim Byung-kwan withdrew his nomination last week, Minister Kim visited Baengnyeongdo Island, near the site where the 1,200-ton Cheonan sank, in the afternoon.

During his visit to the frontline island, the defense chief reaffirmed his military’s top readiness to counter any military threats posed by the communist neighbor.

Earlier in the day, Adm. Choi Yoon-hee, the chief of naval operations, visited the national cemetery in Daejeon to pay homage to the crewmembers, Han and others who were killed in other North Korean provocations including a naval skirmish in 2002.

“The enemy will definitely launch another provocation. If provoked, we should strongly retaliate until the enemy completely surrenders,” he said at the cemetery. “This is what our people want us to do and this is the way we genuinely honor these warriors.”

The Navy began three-day drills in the West Sea in a show of force with the mobilization of its key assets including top-of-the-line guided-missile and patrol vessels.

Air Force Chief of Staff Sung Il-hwan visited the 19th Fighter Wing and a unit operating the Green Pine early warning radar system to check their combat readiness and remember the sacrifices of the fallen sailors of the Cheonan.

“We should not forget their sacrifices. Keep the highest combat preparedness with your firm resolve to devastate not only the origin of the provocation, but also the forces supporting it,” he said during his visit to the fighter wing.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continued his on-site inspection of the military for the third consecutive day on Sunday, according to the North’s state media including the Rodong Sinmun, the daily of its ruling Workers’ Party.

On Sunday, Kim visited Base 1501 where he checked its “high-technology combat materials.” His recent visits to a series of military sites appear to be choreographed in a show of force against the South Korea-U.S. combined forces, experts said.

By Song Sang-ho  (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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