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August 29, 2012

Frontier Island Residents Fear Another N. Korean Attack

by Steve Herman

YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea — It has been 19 months since North Korea shelled a frontier island, killing four South Koreans. Residents say they are concerned they could soon face another artillery attack.

Rhetoric from North Korea's new, young leader has many people on Yeonpyeong Island more nervous than usual.

Earlier this month, Kim Jong Un visited the North Korean artillery unit responsible for shelling Yeonpyeong less than two years ago. He praised them as "heroic defenders" and told them not to miss another "golden chance" to retaliate if a single shell again falls in the nearby waters.

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Anxiety

Kim Yoo-sung, 84, a native of the island just 12 kilometers from the North Korean coast, is wondering if he will find himself being attacked by the enemy for the third time in his life.

He was wounded during his navy service in the Korean War of the early 1950s, and in 2010 he found himself again under attack from the North Koreans when the shelling destroyed much of his house.

Kim says concern about another attack is constantly on the minds of everyone on the island.  People here do not sleep well, he says. Every noise in the night has them frightened that they are being shelled again.

Kim expressed his worries in front of his house, where rebuilding is nearly complete.

Nearby, other destroyed homes are being left as they are. They have turned into a bit of a tourist attraction, and the locals do not mind that at all.

Reminders

Community Center President Kang Myung-sung is optimistic the frames and rubble of several adjacent buildings can serve as a reminder for future generations what happened on this seven-square-kilometer island in November, 2010.

Kang says just as in Hiroshima, Japan, where they have kept several damaged buildings from the first atomic bombing, the islanders want people to come here and see the results of the artillery attack.  But he laments there has not been much support from the central government for the idea to surround the destruction with memorial gardens, another idea the local people have derived from Hiroshima.

North Korea says it was provoked on November 23, 2010 by a South Korean military exercise that lobbed shells into disputed waters.

Annual joint drills on the peninsula between U.S. and South Korean militaries are currently underway.

North Korean leader Kim has called the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise a grave provocation that risks triggering an all-out war and his troops are waiting for a final order to charge for a life-and-death battle against the enemies.

North Korean state media said the order has already been signed and if delivered to the troops Kim has personally told them to turn the west sea (Yellow Sea) into a graveyard of the invaders.

While such belligerent rhetoric is common from Pyongyang, some analysts say the young new leader is likely to invoke a clash to burnish his credentials as North Korea's untested commander-in-chief.

Future prospects

Speaking to correspondents Tuesday at the National Intelligence Service in Seoul, security researcher Ko Young Hwan, a former North Korean diplomat who defected, predicted Pyongyang will conduct a military strike, such as the shelling of another submarine or attempt to land on one of the South Korean-held frontier islands.

Tensions between the two Koreas soared to their highest level in decades in 2010. The South blamed the North for torpedoing and sinking one of its coastal warships in March of that year.

Eight months later it bombarded Yeonpyeong island for two hours, killing four people and wounding 18 others.