S Korea island marks Shelling anniversary

2012-11-23 12:06

Yeonpyeong - A South Korean island marked on Friday the anniversary of its 2010 shelling by North Korea, with its residents still haunted by the assault and alarmed by Pyongyang's threat to strike again.

The 23 November attack on Yeonpyeong island killed two South Korean marines and two civilians in one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

In the intervening two years, most of the islanders who fled with the intention of resettling on the mainland have returned.

But their home has changed dramatically and now bristles with new fortifications, a three-fold increase in troop numbers and the regular wail of sirens sounding yet another air-raid drill.

"Some say they still can't sleep well at night, can't breathe well or their heartbeat gets faster when the sirens go off," local doctor Park Kil-Soon said.

Friday's second anniversary was to be marked by military exercises on and around the island, with defence officials stressing that no live rounds would be used in an apparent effort to avoid provoking North Korea.

Ridicule from North Korea

A new museum was to be inaugurated, featuring photos, 3D images and videos detailing the 2010 attack, and incorporating the wreckage of two shelled homes, with charred children's bicycles and other items.

North Korea has ridiculed the memorial activities, and its military on Thursday threatened another attack on the island, saying its only regret was not sending Yeonpyeong "to the bottom of the sea" two years ago.

"It is [our] steadfast will... not to miss the opportunity to do so if the warmongers perpetrate another provocation," an army spokesperson said.

Choi Ok-Sun, a 30-year resident who owns an inn on the island, initially moved to the mainland port city of Incheon after the shelling with the intention of starting a fresh life.

But within a year she was back on Yeonpyeong.

"Where else can you go after spending nearly all your life here?" she said.

Increase in population

Many were lured back by a mini-boom in the local economy, as the authorities rushed to reconstruct shattered homes and build new ones for workers, troops and their families.

"It was really scary back then and everyone was so worried about their livelihood, but now things have improved in that sense," Choi said.

The population has actually increased from 1 700 to 2 000, while the number of troops has reportedly grown from 500 to 1 500.

New buildings display patriotic murals painted by visiting artists and slogans like "Peace" and "We love Yeonpyeong".