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September 7, 2009

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S. Koreans lost in flood waters

SIX South Koreans camping and fishing along a river flowing from North Korea were swept away yesterday when it suddenly doubled in height, apparently because a new dam in North Korea released a large amount of water without warning, officials said.

South Korean officials said they will ask Pyongyang for an explanation, adding they had already conveyed concerns about the dam's effect on South Korea in recent years but received no response.

About 1,300 rescuers had failed to find those missing about 10 hours after the search began, fire official Park Ju-il said. He said the campers included a 12-year-old boy.

The Imjin River's water level jumped from 2.3 meters to 4.6 meters yesterday morning, Gyeonggi provincial official Choi Kwon-rak said. The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said North Korea is believed to have released about 40 million tons of water starting at 2am yesterday.

Choi said there was no other apparent cause since it had not rained in the area for several days.

South Korean officials have raised concerns the Hwanggang Dam could cause water shortages or flooding in South Korea, with some saying North Korea could use it as a weapon. Seoul's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with Pyongyang, said in a statement that it conveyed such concerns to North Korea during talks in 2006 and 2007, but the country hasn't responded.

The ministry plans to send a message to North Korea today to request an explanation of what happened and to express regret at Seoul not being alerted to the suspected discharge of water, a ministry official said.


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