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North denies sinking South Korean warship, threatens ‘all-out war’

North Korean leaders lashed out at the international community Thursday after a report found that the regime had attacked a South Korean warship in March, killing 46 people.

Investigators from South Korea, the United States, Britain, Australia and Sweden said they had uncovered sufficient evidence to conclude that the North was behind the sinking of the Cheonan, a 300-foot warship. The attack was the deadliest between the two countries, which remain formally at war, in 20 years.

Because no North Korean submarine was detected nearby when the Cheonan sank in March, investigators have had to rely on more subtle clues, according to the BBC. At a press conference in Seoul, officials presented chunks of scrap metal recovered from the scene that indicate a torpedo attack was responsible for sinking the Cheonan:

The South Korean navy even designed its own special nets and they have been dragging them, up to eight times a day, across the seabed close to the site of the sinking.

Just five days ago, they found what they were looking for – the propellers, a propulsion motor and a steering section of a torpedo, a perfect match for a model known to be manufactured and exported by North Korea.

The markings, in Korean script, are said to consistent with those on a previously obtained model.

North Korea protested the findings, according to The Daily Telegraph, and threatened retaliation:

North Korea strongly denied responsibility for the attack, calling the investigation a “fabrication orchestrated by a group of traitors”. It said it would “promptly” react to any retaliation and further sanctions with “various forms of tough measures including an all-out war”. In recent weeks, North Korea has begun massing more troops on the border with the South.

Worldwide condemnation, meanwhile, has been swift. The White House said in a statement that the attack “constitutes a challenge to international peace and security.” And the office of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the report “deeply troubling.”

China, which has mediated previous tempests sparked by North Korea, has been more muted in its response. The North is most likely relying on China to block any international effort to impose sanctions or penalties for the attack, and one expert told Reuters that the incident poses a political challenge for China’s leaders on the world stage:

The North Korea issue is an absolutely crucial test of whether China has what it takes to be a world leader,” said Lee Jung-hoon, a Yonsei University professor of international relations.

“Depending on how it handles it, it can demonstrate itself as a true global leader or otherwise it will simply remain a socialist giant.”