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North Korea to apologize for submarine intrusion

December 29, 1996

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ In a major concession, North Korea has agreed to apologize for the intrusion of a spy submarine into South Korea, Seoul officials said Sunday.

U.S. officials, on behalf of South Korea, had been negotiating with the communist North over the apology since Dec. 9.

South Korea demanded an apology before it improves relations with the North and renews economic aid to its impoverished neighbor. And the United States is considering food and energy assistance for North Korea if it expresses regret over the incident.

South Korean officials said North Korea and the United States have reached full agreement on the language of the North’s apology, removing the last obstacle in their negotiations.

The officials refused to reveal details until the North formally pologizes through its official media. But South Korean newspapers, quoting diplomatic sources in Washington, said the apology will express ``deep regret over the serious human casualties″ caused by the intrusion.

``The Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea promises that this sort of incident will not happen again, and will work for permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,″ Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo quoted the apology as saying.

The apology, to be made Sunday or Monday, will be in the name of a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, Seoul officials said.

The apology is a major concession for North Korea, which has insisted its submarine accidentally drifted into South Korean territory during routine training.

South Korea says 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.

According to South Korean news reports, North Korea has agreed to announce a Korean-language apology through its official radio station and promise to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.

Quoting an unidentified government source, South Korea’s Kookmin Ilbo reported Saturday that North Korea has executed 10 military officials it held responsible for the failure of the submarine mission.

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

The $5 billion reactors were a reward for North Korea’s freeze on its outdated nuclear program, suspected of being used for weapons development. The new reactors would produce far less weapons-grade plutonium.

Seoul had said the reactor project would not proceed without an apology. South Korea is the main financier of the project.

The United States has contributed $6.2 million to U.N. World Food Program relief efforts in North Korea. Recent reports indicate the country’s food shortages are deepening.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said that in providing food aid for North Korea, the United States follows WFP recommendations. He was unaware of any impending announcement on food aid.

Update hourly