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North Korea apologizes for submarine intrusion

Clinton 'pleased' with progress

December 29, 1996
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 GMT)

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korea formally apologized Sunday for an international incident in which one of its spy submarine invaded South Korean waters in September.

In a statement from a foreign ministry spokesman, North Korea expressed "deep regret" and vowed to "make efforts to ensure that such an incident will not recur."

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U.S. President Bill Clinton, who monitored the situation closely and sent U.S. officials to help negotiate an end, released a statement Sunday saying he welcomes the apology as a significant development that he hopes will lead to "the reduction of tensions on the Korean peninsula."

"I am pleased that Pyongyang has pledged to prevent the recurrence of such an incident and has expressed its willingness to work with others for durable peace and stability on the peninsula," the statement read.

Apology a major concession

The formal apology, carried in English by the North's official Korean Central News Agency and in Korean by Radio Pyongyang, represented a major concession by North Korea.

Pyongyang had insisted its submarine accidentally drifted into South Korean territory during routine training.

South Korea said the submarine was on an espionage mission when it broke down. Thirteen South Korean soldiers and civilians were killed in the massive hunt for the 26 North Koreans who swam ashore.

Twenty-four North Korean commandos were killed or found dead. One was captured alive and another is missing.

Linchpin to economic aid

South Korea demanded the apology before improving relations with the North and renewing economic aid to its impoverished neighbor.

"We hope that North Korea will use this opportunity to work for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and will respond earnestly to our efforts to improve South-North relations," South Korea said in a statement.


The apology should also smooth the way for work on two nuclear reactors in the North promised under a 1994 U.S.-North Korea accord.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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