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24 May - The deliberate sinking of a navy ship off the coast of the Republic of Korea by its northern neighbour, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, has dealt a blow to efforts to promote peace in the region, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, voicing hope that the Security Council will act swiftly on the issue.

Seoul released the findings of an international report last week which said that its vessel Cheonan was hit by a DPRK torpedo in late March, claiming the lives of 46 ROK soldiers.

Mr. Ban told reporters at his monthly press conference today that the evidence laid out in the report “is overwhelming and deeply troubling,” adding his voice to the chorus of international leaders condemning the incident.

He said that it is “particularly deplorable” that this development occurs at a time when both global efforts to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula and the so-called Six-Party Talks – bringing together the DPRK, the ROK, Japan, China, Russia and the United States – are stalled.

“Such an unacceptable act by the DPRK runs counter to international efforts to promote peace and stability in the region.”

ROK President Lee Myung-bak has reportedly announced that his country will sever nearly all trade with the DPRK and will bring the matter before the Security Council.

“I am confident that the Council, in fulfilling its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, will take measures appropriate to the gravity of the situation,” Mr. Ban emphasized today.

Although a national of the ROK, the Secretary-General today asserted his objectivity in the matter.

The United Nations, he also noted, will continue providing life-saving support to the people of the DPRK, given the dire humanitarian situation, where over one third of the co nearly 24 million-strong population is in need of food assistance.

“Regardless of other considerations, we need to provide humanitarian assistance” to those who need it most, including malnourished children. “They are the leaders of our future generations and they should be given proper nutrition and support,” the Secretary-General said in response to a reporter's question.

He also welcomed the announcement by Mr. Lee that the ROK will continue to assist vulnerable children in the DPRK.

Accra / Ghana/ Africa/