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A South Korean navy coastal defense vessel patrols the north coast of the country (file photo).

Korean tensions about claims that warship was sunk by a torpedo

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A South Korean navy ship sunk yesterday in what was feared for a torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine.

Several of the 104 crew members were killed and others were missing last night.

The drama, close to the disputed sea border between the two Korea's, showed concern that growing tensions between them could escalate into conflicts.

A South Korean navy coastal defense vessel patrols the north coast of the country (file photo).

Torpedo attack: a South Korean naval coastal defense vessel patrols the north coast of the country (file photo)

North Korea previously had & # 39; unprecedented attacks & # 39; including nuclear attacks, threatened its neighbor and the US, claiming to overthrow the Kim Jong-il regime.

Relations between the two have also recently come under pressure with disputes about cross-border tourism and a common economic zone.

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There are fears in the South that the North is becoming increasingly erratic and dangerous.

While ships and helicopters were looking for the sinking of survivors last night, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak called an emergency meeting of security ministers in Seoul.

The incident occurred in the Yellow Sea near Baeknyeong Island, the westernmost point of South Korea and an important military post.

The South Korean ship, the 1,200-tonne Cheonan corvette, was on a routine patrol when it was hit by an explosion near its stern.

There were reports that it had previously fired warning shots at an object in the north.

But South Korean officials played the first reports on military action and said they had no evidence of North Korean troops in the area.

They said the Cheonan could have fired its warning shots at a distant flock of birds that had produced an image on its radar.

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Senior government officials later told South Korean media that the ship could have hit a rock or had been hit by an explosion.

Six navy ships and two coast guard vessels arrived and the defense ministry later said that 58 crew members had been rescued from the corvette. Two had to be flown for emergency medical treatment.

North Korea recently warned that it was increasing its defense mechanisms following joint South Korean-American military exercises earlier this month. It had declared four marine incineration zones near the sea border, using multiple rocket launchers. Two of the zones are in the Yellow Sea.

President Lee Myung President Lee Myung

Action: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, center, speaks to officials today after sinking one of the country's naval ships

North Korea never recognized the sea border unilaterally drawn by the United States-led UN command at the end of the Korean war in 1950-53.

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The Yellow Sea was the scene of naval battles in 1999 – when 17 North Korean sailors died – and 2002 when four South Korean sailors and at least 30 North Koreans died.

Last November the two navies fought a brief firefight in which one North Korean sailor was dead and three others were wounded. A North Korean ship remained on fire.

In January, North Korea fired artillery into the controversial zones at a time of increasing international pressure to resume talks about its nuclear ambitions. Some analysts say that the shooting zones – and the recent escalation of military activities – can be a way to hold hands in every conversation.

In 2002, then US President George Bush called North Korea in an & # 39; axis of evil & # 39; next to Iraq and Iran. But the regime in Pyongyang was challenging and claimed the following year that it had enough plutonium for nuclear bombs.

In 2006, North Korea tested a long-range rocket and last year claimed that it had conducted an underground nuclear test, protests from the US, Russia, and China.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il North Korean leader Kim Jong-il

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visits the Daeheungsan Machinery Factory in North Korea yesterday

KOREA, HALF A CENTURY CONFLICT

At the end of the Second World War, Korea was a united country under Japanese occupation.

But after the defeat of Japan, the island was effectively split with Soviet troops in the north and American troops in the south.

The stage was ripe for a long-term and bitter confrontation between the capitalist West and the communist forces of Russia.

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In 1948, leaders in the north proclaimed the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Soviets withdrew. Two years later, the south was declared independent. North Korea has been invaded.

The ensuing war lasted three years, leaving two million dead and destroying the country's economy and infrastructure.

The hostilities eventually stopped when the two sides agreed to a three-mile buffer zone between the two states.

But despite the ceasefire, the sporadic hostilities continued, the two small countries that fought a bitter spur of the Cold War in a remote and neglected corner of the world.

p4koreagraphic.jpg p4koreagraphic.jpg

The south – propped up by the Americans – flourished. However, the north has had a much rockier past.

Originally ruled by Kim Il-song, the highest leader in the country is now his son Kim Jong-il.

While his father had adhered to the conditions of the 1953 ceasefire, his successor replicated.

In 1996, against a background of devastating famine, Kim Jong-il announced that he was sending troops to the demilitarized zone

In 2002, George W Bush named North Korea as part of an & # 39; axis of evil & # 39; in addition to other & # 39; rogue states & # 39; such as Iraq and Iran.

But Kim Jong-il was not put off. Instead, Pyongyang made regular announcements about his arsenal and claimed in July 2003 that it had enough plutonium to make nuclear bombs.

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In 2006, North Korea tested a long-range rocket. The relationship with the West deteriorated again last year when neighbors accused the country of carrying out another long-range rocket test.

However, Pyongyang claimed that the rocket was carrying a communications satellite under surveillance.

Later last year, the country admitted that it had conducted its second underground nuclear test, with protest from the US, China, and Russia.

And while nuclear management continued, there were regular splashes with South Korea about border incidents and hostile intentions.

The maritime border has been the cause of certain tensions in recent months. South Korea claims that the North has designated four areas as a military shooting zone and has deployed four rocket launchers close to the sea in response.

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Although South Korea still recognizes the Northern Limit Line, which was established in 1953, the North has never accepted the border.

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