Bleak future for S Korean islanders

2010-11-30 14:36

Incheon - Residents of a South Korean island shelled by North Korea last week have taken refuge at a mammoth spa, but life is anything but relaxing and the future looks bleak with no guarantee they will ever go home.

Most of the 1 600 residents of Yeonpyeong have fled the mountainous isle that lies just 3km from the disputed sea border and well within range of North Korea's artillery, which killed four people last week and destroyed dozens of houses.

Many of the 300 or so who have taken over an entire floor of the In Spa World courtesy of its owner and the city of Incheon say their frustration is growing and life at the shelter unbearable.

"The air is stuffy, the floor is hard and we don't get enough sun," said Shin Il-geun, who has been at the spa since the shelling which turned his home into ghost town, with just 30 or so residents still there.

"The people here are those who have nobody to turn to, the most helpless, and we're getting the worst end of the deal, with no end in sight," Shin said, his voice rising in frustration.

Anger is growing in South Korea at how its government and the military handled the North's surprise attack against a civilian target on land for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Restraint rather than action

President Lee Myung-bak has vowed to get tough with the North, a pledge similar to the one he issued after he accused the North of torpedoing a navy ship in March, killing 46 sailors.

Both times, many say, his get-tough message was followed by restraint rather than action.

Many of the mostly elderly former residents of Yeonpyeong spend their days sitting or lying idly in a dimly lit open space on the second floor, surrounded by half eaten fruit, paper cups and bags carrying the most basic necessities. Few have any idea where their lives are headed.

Park Hye-won used to run the only playschool on Yeonpyeong with 48 children, mostly the offspring of Marines and their spouses who are stationed there. She worries some of her charges may have been traumatised for life by the shelling.

"It was nap time and the teachers had to wake them up and get them dressed, and get them moving to evacuate. But you know, the kids were so orderly. Their instinct told them there was danger."

Park was back at her job running the playschool, but now in a makeshift room in a corner of the spa. She feels it is more important than ever to create some sort of normalcy for the children.

"We hope playing will help bring some peace. And we're lucky to have this space and have toys donated for them."

Unsure of return

It is a long way from home for the grown ups, who are too old for the hard floors, the water park upstairs or the fancy gym equipment.

Kim Jae-ok was first in line when lunch was served, appearing withdrawn and depressed.

"It's very hard," he muttered under his hat as he took a meal of rice, broiled beef and kimchi pickled cabbage. "I really don't know if we are going to go back home."

Some found refuge in worship. Ko Yam-jeon, aged 76, was getting up from a chat with a psychological counsellor, looking relieved and serene. Yeonpyeong was her home for 60 years, and she also does not know whether she will go back.

"It's so sad four people died, but I've prayed that it wasn't worse. I am grateful for that," Ko said reaching for a reporter's hand.

"I prayed for North Korea that things don't get worse ... that we would be reunited one day."

Read more on:    lee myung-bak  |  north korea  |  south korea

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


DA wants to empower fishing communities - Zille

DA leader Helen Zille says the party has a plan for harbours and small-scale fishing communities.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Friday Grabouw - 10:15 AM
    Road name: N2 Eastbound
    DELAYS approaching Grabouw
  • Friday Cape Town - 10:14 AM
    Road name: M3 Inbound
    EVENT - left lane closed between Rhodes Avenue and UCT
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Samsung Galaxy Y

The Samsung Y (Young) is tiny but powerful with Android...

From R1499.00

I'm shopping for:


You may find yourself putting in that extra effort on looking good and making an impression. more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.