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South Korea refers North to the UN

South Korea has officially referred North Korea to the UN Security Council over the sinking of a navy ship that killed 46 sailors, taking its strongest step toward making the communist North face international punishment.

South Korea's UN ambassador Park In-kook handed a letter to Mexico's UN representative Claude Heller, the current Security Council president, asking for a response from the UN's most powerful body to deter "any further provocations".

North Korea has denied responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan and naval spokesman Colonel Pak In Ho warned last month that any move to retaliate or punish Pyongyang would mean war.

Mr Heller circulated the letter to the 14 other council members and said he would initiate discussions "to give an appropriate answer to this request". Closed-door council consultations are scheduled for Monday morning, according to the UN spokesman's office.

Despite a history of being attacked by North Korea, Seoul has never taken Pyongyang to the Security Council for an inter-Korean provocation, but is indicating now that it wants to take the matter beyond the Korean peninsula.

In the letter, Mr Park said an international investigation determined that the torpedo that sank the 1,200-ton South Korean corvette Cheonan in March was made in North Korea and that additional evidence pointed "overwhelmingly" to the conclusion that it was fired by a North Korean submarine.

He called the attack a violation of the UN Charter, the 1953 Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War, and the 1992 North-South agreement on reconciliation, non-aggression and co-operation. The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

"As such, the armed attack by North Korea constitutes a threat to the peace and security on the Korean peninsula and beyond," he said. "My government requests that the Security Council duly consider this matter and respond in a manner appropriate to the gravity of North Korea's military provocation in order to deter recurrence of any further provocation by North Korea."

The letter was delivered hours after South Korea's president, in a hard-hitting speech bereft of diplomatic politeness, called North Korea a liar and a threat to north-east Asia. He called the ship attack "a military provocation" that "undermines global peace".

The Security Council has several choices, a resolution with or without new sanctions against North Korea, a weaker presidential statement calling for specific actions, or a press statement. UN diplomats familiar with consultations on possible action against North Korea said China, the North's closest ally, is opposed to new sanctions and indicated the more likely result will be a presidential statement.

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