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South Korea building naval base on island attacked by North

SEOUL — South Korea will complete construction of a new naval base later this year on a northwest island that was the site of a major North Korean attack four years ago, defense officials said Friday.

“The area is where North Korean provocations take place most often on the Korean peninsula,” a South Korean Navy spokesman said.

The Baengnyeong Island naval base will, if needed, house advanced patrol boats, including the 570-ton guarded-missile “patrol killer” and the 170-ton patrol killer medium vessel, a South Korean Navy official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the $42 million base will include facilities for about 100 troops. The Navy official said the base will be able to hold a company-sized detachment of servicemembers, but would not give precise numbers on how many troops would be stationed there.

The island is located just 10 miles from North Korea along the disputed naval border. Pyongyang torpedoed the Cheonan warship just off the island in March 2010, ripping the ship in half and killing 46 sailors. The North has denied its involvement in the sinking, though a multinational investigation concluded that it was responsible.

A spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense said the base is meant to beef up defenses because of the overall threat posed by the North.

In testimony in March before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said the Cheonan disaster illustrated how real the North Korean threat is.

“That day is a constant reminder that standing at freedom’s frontier with our Korean … ally, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent against an unpredictable totalitarian regime,” he said.

The northwest islands have been the site of other provocations, including the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, in which four people were killed.

The past March, a rudimentary drone was found on Baengnyeong Island, one of three that were determined to be of North Korean origin, which Seoul later concluded were being used for spying.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com

chang.yookyong@stripes.com

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