South Korea Seeks North Korean Explanation About Flash Flood

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea rejected North Korea's explanation for a sudden, deadly release of dam water, saying Tuesday that Pyongyang should clarify more thoroughly and apologize for flooding that left six South Koreans dead or missing.

The North said in its message Monday that it "urgently" had to release dammed water to a river flowing across the border between Saturday night and Sunday morning because the water level was too high. The release caused Imjin River's level to double Sunday, sweeping away six South Koreans camping and fishing near the border dividing the two Koreas.

"North Korea's message is not the level we can understand and we think it is very regrettable because it did not have any mention of our serious human casualties," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters Tuesday.

Chun said South Korea wants "responsible North Korean authorities" to apologize and offer "sufficient" explanation on why it had to release such a large amount of water without notice.

South Korean officials have raised questions over North Korea's excuse, saying there have been little rains in areas north of Imjin River over the past week.

An estimated 40 million tons of water came from a new North Korean dam – one that some in the South had warned the North could use as a weapon. South Korea's Defense Ministry, however, said Monday there were no immediate signs the water release was meant as an attack.

The North Korean message was unexpectedly quick as it came only about six hours after South Korea sent a message seeking explanation for the flooding. The North also said it would warn its neighbor of similar releases in the future, and Chun said South Korea will consider talks with the North to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.

North Korea and South Korea technically remain in a state of war, divided by a heavily militarized border, because their three-year conflict in the 1950s ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Relations blossomed under the "Sunshine Policy" espoused by two liberal South Korean administrations but went cold after the election of conservative President Lee Myung-bak 18 months ago.

Pyongyang recently reached out to Seoul again, agreeing to restart long-suspended joint economic projects and resume the reunions of families divided during the Korean War.

As part of anti-flooding efforts, South Korea has been building two dams in the area, scheduled to be completed by 2011 and 2012, respectively. On Monday, the Land Ministry said in a statement it will advance the construction of the first dam by one year in the wake of Sunday's flooding.

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Associated Press Writer Jae-soon Chang contributed to this report.