Russian experts who carried out a probe into the South Korean warship sinking refused to put the blame on North Korea, military sources said on Tuesday.

A team of four submarine and torpedo experts from the Russian Navy returned to Moscow on Monday after making an independent assessment of the March 26 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, in which 46 sailors were killed.

A Russian Navy source said the experts had not found convincing evidence of North Korea's involvement.

“After examining the available evidence and the ship wreckage Russian experts came to the conclusion that a number of arguments produced by the international investigation in favour of the DPRK's [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] involvement in the corvette sinking were not weighty enough,” a Russian Navy source told the Interfax-AVN news wire on Tuesday on condition of anonymity. Russia's Armed Forces Chief of Staff Nikolai Makarov said only that the Russian Foreign Ministry would make an official statement on the issue after the experts prepared their report.

“It is too early to make a definitive conclusion on the causes of the tragedy,” he was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Immediately after the incident Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev urged restraint in order to “avoid the further escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula”. The Kremlin said Mr. Medvedev had accepted Seoul's invitation to send a team of experts to South Korea because he believed “it is of the utmost importance to establish the true cause of the ship's sinking and determine exactly who holds personal responsibility.”

A leading Russian expert on Korea suggested that the ship had been probably hit by friendly fire. “I think it was a tragic accident during war games that cynical politicians are trying to exploit to maximum advantage,” said Dr. Konstantin Asmolov of the Korea Centre at the Institute of the Far East.

Keywords: Korean tension

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