Seoul: South Korea will cut trade links with North Korea after Pyongyang torpedoed a warship, President Lee Myung-Bak said Monday, warning that Seoul will immediately defend itself against any future attacks.
Lee also said North Korean merchant ships would be banned from using the South's shipping lanes and confirmed that Seoul would refer the March 26 attack to the United Nations Security Council.
"From now on, (South) Korea will not tolerate any provocative act by the North and will maintain the principle of proactive deterrence," the President said in a nationally televised speech.
"If our territorial waters, airspace or territory are violated, we will immediately exercise our right of self-defence."
A multinational investigation team said last Thursday there was overwhelming evidence that a North Korean submarine fired a heavy torpedo to sink a 1,200-tonne corvette near the disputed border with the loss of 46 lives.
Numerous Western nations and Japan have condemned the attack, seen as one of the worst provocations since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. But the North's ally China has so far only called on all sides to show restraint.
A solemn-faced Lee said trade and exchanges between the two sides would be suspended since any cooperation was "meaningless" under present circumstances.
However, he exempted the jointly run Kaesong industrial estate just north of the border, and humanitarian aid for the North's children, from the cut-off.
Lee vowed to speed up reform of his own military and "drastically" strengthen its combat capabilities. He said that joint combat readiness between South Korean and US forces would be further strengthened.
Lee, in a strongly worded speech, described the attack as the latest in a series of armed provocations since the end of the war.
"Once again, North Korea violently shattered our peace," he said.
The President said the South in the past had repeatedly tolerated the North's "brutality", citing a 1983 bombing in Myanmar aimed at Seoul's then-president and the downing of a South Korean airliner in 1987.
"But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts."
Lee urged the North's regime immediately to apologise for the attack and punish those responsible.
He contrasted the South's dramatic economic development with the situation in the impoverished and isolated North.
"It is a country that still believes in making threats and committing terrorist activities. North Korea's goal is to instigate division and conflict," Lee said, calling on the regime to change its mindset.
First Published: Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 00:19