Russian Probe Sees No N Korea Hand In Cheonan Sinking

In what could be a morale-booster for North Korea in its stand-off with South Korea--and, by extension, the U.S.,-- Russian naval experts who inquired into the sinking of a South Korean warship March 26, found unconvincing the arguments put forward by a four-nation team of investigators, blaming Pyongyang for the tragedy, an Interfax-AVN news wire report, quoting an anonymous Russian Navy source, said Tuesday.

The revelation followed the return Monday of a team of four Russian Navy submarine and torpedo experts to Moscow after making an independent assessment of the March 26 sinking of the 1,200-ton South Korean Navy corvette "Cheonan" near the disputed Yellow Sea border, in which 46 sailors drowned.

The report said the experts had not found convincing evidence that a heavy torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine sank the South Korean vessel.

"After examining the available evidence and the ship wreckage, Russian experts came to the conclusion that a number of arguments adduced by the international investigation team in favor of the DPRK's (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) involvement in the corvette-sinking were not weighty enough," the Russian Navy source said.

A report by a team of investigators from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States, who pieced together portions of the South Korean warship's wreckage, and published last month, said there was overwhelming evidence that a North Korean submarine fired a heavy torpedo to sink the South Korean vessel.

The report concludes: "The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine. There is no other plausible explanation."

However, there was no official confirmation from Moscow on its naval experts' findings with Russia's Armed Forces Chief of Staff Marshal Nikolai Makarov saying that only the Foreign Ministry would make an official statement on the issue after the experts presented their report.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accepted Seoul's offer to send specialists at May-end as he believed it was important to be sure of the cause of the sinking of the warship before taking action.

Immediately after the incident, Russia called on all sides to show restraint amid fears that a further escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula could develop into a military crisis.

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