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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
North Korea admits losses in clash
South Korean veterans shout anti-North Korea slogans
South Koreans are furious about the battle
North Korea has for the first time admitted that some of its sailors were killed during a violent skirmish between the North and South Korean navies in the Yellow Sea last Saturday.

North Korea's official news agency said the clash caused "a loss of life on both sides", but gave no details of the number of dead. It had previously said it only suffered casualties.

South Korea has estimated that at least 30 North Korean sailors were killed. Four South Koreans were also killed in the action; one is missing, presumed dead, and 19 others were wounded.

The two sides of the divided Korean peninsula have traded blame for starting the 20-minute battle, the worst maritime clash between the two sides for three years.

A report from North Korea's KCNA news agency on Friday reiterated that the Stalinist state holds the US and South Korea responsible.

Smoke pours from a patrol ship after the battle
One ship sank after the shoot-out

"The US instigated the South Korean military to infiltrate warships deep into the territorial waters of the DPRK side and mount a surprise attack on the patrol boats of the Korean People's Army on routine coastal guard duty, thus causing such tragedy in the long run," it said.

The US has dismissed such claims in the past.

South Korea maintained that the North's boats crossed into its waters and opened fire after ignoring warnings.

The North does not recognise the maritime border - known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL) - which was unilaterally imposed by the United Nations after the Korean War ended in 1953.

After the rivals' last naval spat in 1999, it declared its own border.

The news agency called on the US, which has denounced the clash as North Korean "provocation", to apologise for "its backstage manipulation" of the incident.

North Korea regularly accuses US of 'war-mongering', and criticises the presence of some 37,000 American troops in South Korea - a legacy of the Korean War.

Talks possibility

Despite the rhetoric, North Korea indicated on Thursday that it wanted to reduce the escalating tension with South Korea following the clash.

"The North and South of Korea should develop North-South relations into those of dialogue and co-operation, not confrontation and war," said a statement carried by KCNA.

And on Friday, diplomats said there was a chance that talks between North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun and his counterparts in South Korea, Japan and the US, may occur on the sidelines of the Asean regional forum at the end of July.

The US has called off a visit by a State Department envoy this month in response to the naval battle.

But it has stressed that it remains committed to dialogue with North Korea.

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

See also:

04 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
03 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
20 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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