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Monday, June 22, 1998 Published at 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Sub incident harms Korean relations

The sub sank while under South Korean navy escort

South Korea has accused the North of violating the 45-year-old armistice between them after capturing a mini-submarine in its territorial waters.

The submarine sank as it was towed into port by the South Korean navy.

BBC News' Andrew Wood: no sign of life
South Korean naval officials say they have detected no sign of life inside; it is not known if the crew are on board, or scuttled it themselves and escaped.

It had been discovered entangled in fishing nets just inside South Korean waters, near the port of Sokcho. North Korean says the vessel was wrecked while on a training exercise.

[ image:  ]
According to the South Korean news agency, the incident led to a row at talks between North Korea and the United Nations force representing South Korea. The UN, for its part, described the talks as constructive.

These were the highest-level talks at the demilitarised zone for seven years - when they were announced earlier this month, American officials described the forthcoming meeting as a "breakthrough".

Its aim was to settle incidents and disputes along the heavily-fortified border area separating the two Koreas.

No peace treaty

BBC Seoul correspondent Andrew Wood: sub has sunk
North and South Korea are still technically at war, as no peace treaty was signed after the armistice which ended the fighting in the Korean War in 1953.

The BBC Seoul correspondent says the incident has soured relations between North and South just when things had seemed to be getting better.

He says it is difficult to tell whether this submarine was deliberately violating South Korean waters or whether it was an accident.

Either way, he adds, the timing was unfortunate - relations had been improving between the two Koreas.

Reconnaissance missions

The South Korean military say it was a Yugo-class submarine - a small vessel designed for reconnaissance missions, but possibly used to infiltrate people into the South.

The North Koreans are thought to have 45 vessels of this type, each of which carries a crew of five or six.

[ image:  ]
The incident took place close to where a much larger North Korean submarine ran aground in 1996, sparking a massive hunt for the submarine's occupants.

Twenty-six North Korean commandos were accused of attempting to infiltrate South Korea. Most of them were killed by the South Korean army.

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