Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 16:10 UK

N Korea admits deadly water surge

Imjin River in Yeoncheon
The water level of the Imjin River rose rapidly on Sunday morning

North Korea has told Seoul a sudden surge of water prompted it into an emergency release from a dam that killed at least three South Koreans.

In an unusually quick response to South Korea's demand for an explanation, Pyongyang said it would in future give prior warning of any discharge.

Seoul said the response did not mention the deaths and was not sufficient.

The level on the cross-border Imjin River doubled on Sunday, sweeping away six South Koreans.

Rescuers found three bodies on Monday and were still searching for three others.

Seoul earlier demanded an explanation and called on its neighbour to give notice of any future water releases.

The incident happened as cross-border ties were improving after months of tension.

Unintended consequences

"The government has expressed regret that a North Korean dam along the Imjin River released water yesterday [Sunday] without prior notice and caused big damage, including six of our citizens going missing," South Korea's unification ministry said.

At this point, we still wouldn't quite call it a water assault
Won Tae-jae,
South Korean defence ministry

Thousands of troops have been mobilised to search for those missing.

Members of South Korea's ruling Grand National Party have demanded an apology, describing the incident as "an unpardonable criminal act".

However, Seoul said on Monday that it did not view the latest incident as deliberately provocative.

"At this point, we still wouldn't quite call it a water assault," defence ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told a briefing.

"There has to be intention present for us to be able to do that."

North Korean dams have previously released water without prior announcement, damaging agriculture south of the border but Sunday's incident was the first to claim lives.

South Korea's unification ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said the South was requesting an explanation from the North and had "strongly urged" North Korea not to repeat similar incidents.

The North last month freed five South Korean detainees, eased border curbs, and sent envoys from Pyongyang for talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak.

Map: North Korea dam
Water is believed to have been released from the Hwanggang Dam on the Imjin River, about 25 km north of the border
Six people killed south of the border as floodwater surges downstream
North Korea's dam building projects are part of an effort to solve chronic power shortages

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