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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 07:01 GMT 08:01 UK
Fears over North Korean dam
Cleaner at football stadium, Pusan
The alert comes amid the South's World Cup countdown
Cracks in a dam just north of the Korean border have sparked fears that it could collapse and send millions of tonnes of waters crashing into the South.

The 16-year-old dam, near Mount Kumgang in the south-eastern corner of North Korea, lies on a northern tributary of the Han River which flows across South Korea and through the capital Seoul.

Officials said that although Seoul itself was not especially at risk - it has protective measures in place - there was a "slim" possibility that rural areas along the Han River could be submerged.

The security alert comes just four weeks before South Korea is due to host the World Cup.

Cracks photographed

"Imnam Dam was found to have a damaged part, 20 metres (66 feet) wide and 15 metres (50 feet) deep, on the upper side," South Korea's Construction Ministry said in a statement.

In recent days, South Korea's media have released satellite photographs of the cracks.

The ministry said the North's dam was "probably having troubles in safety" and was "seen to be unable to control floods" in the rainy seasons.

The main risk will be during the rainy season in July.

"If precipitation reaches between 300 mm and 500 mm (12 and 20 inches) during the rainy season, it may cause the worst case scenario, although the possibility is slim," Assistant Construction Minister Park Dong-wha told reporters.

The South Korean Government said it would take the precaution of emptying dams on its side of the border, and will clad the slopes of one of them with cement to withstand any massive flows of water from the North.

The government plans to raise the issue at inter-Korean economic talks to open in Seoul next week.

See also:

27 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
S Korea hopes for World Cup lift
22 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
World Cup hosts stress teamwork
23 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
S Korea shops its way to recovery
27 Nov 01 | World Cup 2002
Korea's World Cup venues
27 Nov 01 | World Cup 2002
Japan's World Cup venues
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