Sam Kim –
South Korean warships scoured the Yellow Sea on Saturday in search of debris from a failed North Korean rocket launch that has heightened tensions in the region and brought international condemnation on the country’s new leader amid a week of lavish celebrations to mark the centenary of the nation’s founder.
South Korea’s navy has deployed about 10 ships, including a corvette with sonar radar, to search for rocket debris, a Defense Ministry official said Saturday.
He refused to provide further details and asked not to be named because the sensitive mission was still under way.
U.S. Navy minesweepers and other ships were also believed to be in the area and were expected to join the search, which could offer evidence of what went wrong and what rocket technology North Korea has. Japan’s Defense Ministry said it is not participating in the search because none of the debris is believed to have fallen in Japanese waters.
Japan’s vice defense minister, Shu Watanabe, warned the North not to try to block the search, saying in a televised interview that any such effort could heighten military tensions.
The rocket’s disintegration just moments after liftoff Friday brought a rare public acknowledgment of failure from Pyongyang, which had hailed the launch as a show of strength amid North Korea’s persistent economic hardship.
The launch was timed to coincide with the country’s biggest holiday in decades, the 100th birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
International condemnation was swift, including the suspension of U.S. food aid, and raised concerns that the North’s next move could be even more provocative: a nuclear test, the country’s third.