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Navy chief vows revenge for Cheonan

The South Korean Navy chief swore that his men will find the culprits behind the Cheonan‘s sinking and make them pay for what they did as Koreans bid their final farewells yesterday to 46 sailors killed in a warship disaster last month.

Carrying portraits of the deceased sailors of the Cheonan, naval soldiers walk into the funeral hall in Pyeongtaek, southwest of Seoul, yesterday. Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald
Carrying portraits of the deceased sailors of the Cheonan, naval soldiers walk into the funeral hall in Pyeongtaek, southwest of Seoul, yesterday. Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald

“We will not sit back and watch whoever caused this pain for our people,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Kim Sung-chan said during his memorial address at the funeral of the sailors.

“We will hunt them down and make them pay a bigger price.”

It is the first time a senior South Korean official publicly spoke of a revenge against the possible attacker, most likely to be North Korea, after the 1,200-ton Navy corvette mysteriously sank on March 26.

Kim’s remarks are expected to lead to significant change in the Navy‘s operations near the disputed inter-Korean sea border of the Northern Limit Line.

"The March 26 incident near Baengnyeong Island should never have happened,” Kim said.

“We cannot and will not forgive (the attackers). We should never forget what happened.”

The funeral for the sailors, mostly in their early 20s and 30s, was held at the Navy corvette Cheonan’s home port of Pyeongtaek yesterday morning, with about 2,800 people attending.

About half were families of the dead sailors, and the other half were President Lee Myung-bak, government and military officials, leaders of ruling and opposition parties among others.

After a moment of silence, President Lee laid medals of military merit in front of the photographs of the 46 sailors, offered flowers and lit incense as part of the funeral address.

The televised funeral was held at a memorial park within the premises of the Navy’s Second Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, where a South Korean Navy vessel sunken during the deadly skirmish with North Korea in 2002 is displayed. Six South Korean soldiers were killed during the naval clashes with the North near the NLL in 1999 and 2002.

President Lee had wished to recite a memorial address at the Navy-led funeral, according to his aides, but decided against the idea, considering the procedures of the Navy funeral service.

Lee already paid tribute during a televised biweekly radio address on April 19 during which he called out the names of the 46 sailors.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Kim Sung-chan’s address was followed by a speech by Petty Officer First Class Kim Hyun-rae, a surviving sailor of the Cheonan.

Fifty-eight of the 104 crew members of the 1,200-ton Navy patrol ship were rescued the night the Cheonan went down on March 26. Bodies of 40 dead sailors have been recovered, with the remaining six still unaccounted for. Families of the six sailors have agreed to count them as war dead.

A team of more than 100 investigators including mostly Navy officers in addition to nongovernmental experts from Korea as well as six other countries including the United States are looking into what tore the Cheonan in half.

The joint investigation team announced on Sunday that it was a close-range, underwater explosion from the portside of the ship. They said the ship was not directly hit by a torpedo as there is no evidence of hull penetration by weapons.

Experts say a specially designed torpedo could have exploded just below the ship, causing a massive shockwave to push up and rip the 1,200-ton vessel in half.

While the investigators are still trying to find evidence of a possible attack, President Lee is expected to consult with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Shanghai on Friday.

During his two-day visit, Lee is scheduled to hold a summit with Hu on Friday to discuss a number of pending regional issues, which will include the Cheonan disaster.

Lee is also expected to come across Kim Young-nam, North Korea’s official head of state and president of the presidium of the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, who will also attend the opening of the Shanghai Expo.

The two had met during the opening of the Beijing Olympics in August 2008 and shook hands at Lee’s offer, but did not have a conversation.

By Kim So-hyun (