SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea accused South Korea on Saturday of spreading false rumors that the communist North was to blame for the mysterious explosion that sank a southern warship near the tense sea border.
South Korean officials have not openly blamed the North for one of its worst naval disasters, but an investigator said Friday the explosion was most likely external. Officials have not ruled out a North Korean floating mine or torpedo in the disputed border waters where three past inter-Korean naval battles have been fought.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency on Saturday carried a commentary by an unidentified North Korean military commentator saying Seoul is spreading rumors.
"The military warmongers are getting more undisguised in their moves to link the accident with the North, though it was caused by their fault," said the commentator.
The commentator accused the South of seeking to blame North Korea in order to strengthen the ruling party's position in upcoming local elections and shore up international sanctions against the North.
The U.N. Security Council slapped on tough new sanctions on North Korea following its second nuclear test last year.
The divided peninsula remains technically at war, since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
The state media commentary marked the first official North Korean response to the sinking. Previously, North Korean officials had been reported by South Korean media as privately assuring Chinese officials the North's military had no part in the disaster.
North Korea's accusation came a day after chief South Korean investigator Yoon Duk-yong told reporters after examining the ship that there was a "high possibility of an external explosion" that sunk the ship.
Fifty-eight of the ship's crew were rescued while the ship was sinking and 38 bodies have been found, most of them Thursday when the stern was raised from the water. Eight crew members are still unaccounted for.