Tensions are rising on the Korean Peninsula following South Korea's publication of an experts' report blaming North Korea for torpedoing one of its warships.
Forty-six South Korean sailors died in the incident, which occurred at the disputed Yellow Sea border between the two states, along which naval forces confront one another.
The report says there is "overwhelming" evidence that the navy corvette "Cheonan" was sunk on March 26 by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine. It says there is no other plausible explanation, pointing out that fragments of the torpedo -- displayed at a press conference today -- show that it was manufactured in the communist North.
"The weapon system used is confirmed to be a high-explosive torpedo with a net explosive weight of about 250 kilograms, manufactured by North Korea," said the head of the multinational investigating team, Yoon Do-kyung.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has vowed that the South will take what he called "firm" measures against North Korea in response to the sinking.
Officials say the measures will not be military in nature. South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan indicated they will probably take the form of sanctions agreed by the international community.
"As such, North Korean military provocation not only destroys the peace and security of the international community but also acts against the armistice agreement and the UN charter," Yu said. "The government will take firm and strict measures with the international community."
Pyongyang has reacted fiercely to this prospect, saying it had nothing to do with the sinking and threatening to engage in "all-out war" if it is punished in any way.
South Korea's major ally, the United States, says it backs Seoul's accusation that North Korea is responsible, calling the sinking an "act of aggression" and "one more instance of North Korea's unacceptable behavior and defiance of international law."
Britain says the warship's sinking demonstrated a "total indifference to human life."
Australia called it a "hostile and unprovoked act."
Japan has also come out strongly for the South, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano calling the torpedoing "unforgivable."
"Japan firmly supports South Korea and condemns North Korea's unforgivable provocation against the international community," he said.
China, Pyongyang's only major ally, has refrained from supporting the North, calling on both sides to exercise restraint.
"What I want to point out is that the sinking of the 'Cheonan' vessel is a very unfortunate incident," said Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai. "Dealing with this case properly and maintaining the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula are the common will among people in this region and also consistent with the interest of all sides."
The incident will be a central issue of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Asia, which begins today and takes in Japan, China, and South Korea.
compiled from agency reports