South Korean refugees struggle after shelling

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 1 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

INCHEON, South Korea — A South Korean fisherman whose neighborhood was swallowed by flames in last week's North Korean shelling saw a TV image of the North's leader, Kim Jong Il, and cringed.

"I want to kill him," said Kwak Yong-sun, who now lives on the floor of a public bath house on the mainland. "I almost died because of that man."

Kwak, 50, sleeps shoulder to shoulder with other evacuees from Yeonpyeong Island on a mattress in a huge room in the spa, which has been converted into a refugee center.

He complained of noise, stale air and a lack of sleep. "It's not a place where human beings can live," he said.

The Nov. 23 artillery barrage killed four people — two South Korean marines and two civilians — and sharply raised tensions on the divided peninsula.

South Korean intelligence chief Won Sei-hoon told lawmakers that North Korea is likely to strike again.

Won said in a private briefing Wednesday that North Korea probably carried out last week's attack in part because it needed a "breakthrough" amid internal dissatisfaction over a plan to transfer power from Kim Jong Il to his youngest son, according to the office of lawmaker Choi Jae-sung who attended the closed-door session.

Won also said South Korea had intercepted North Korean military communications in August that indicated Pyongyang was preparing to attack Yeonpyeong and other front-line islands, but he said he didn't expect that attack to be on civilian areas, Choi's office said. He said he considered it a "routine threat," Choi's office said.

The National Intelligence Service said Thursday it couldn't immediately comment.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff tried Thursday to play down Won's comment, saying the intelligence was that North Korea ordered its troops to prepare to return fire should South Korea conduct artillery drills.

The United States and South Korea on Wednesday ended military exercises that included the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. The drills were meant as a warning to the North following last week's exchange of artillery fire.

At the heavily armed Panmunjom village inside the Demilitarized Zone north of Seoul, a North Korean soldier said in a rare interview that he hoped for peace.

Lt. Choe Song Il told Associated Press Television News that he hoped tensions between the two countries would be eased "as soon as possible, in a peaceful way."

"I know that there were casualties on the South side," Choe told an APTN crew from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang that he had been assigned to escort to the Demilitarized Zone.

"I hope that such military conflict between North and South should never happen again," he said.

It was unclear whether his conciliatory comments were spontaneous or not, and whether they merely reflected one soldier's opinion or were meant to reflect the military's stance as a whole. North Korean citizens usually are very careful about expressing opinions.

They were striking words at a time of heightened tensions between the Koreas and a departure from the bellicose rhetoric of North Korea's state-run news agency, which has threatened "full-scale war" this week if the country's territory is violated by any military maneuvers.

To ease tensions, China pressed for an emergency meeting in coming days among the six nations who previously negotiated over North Korea's nuclear program — the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.

"The parties concerned should keep calm and exercise restraint, and work to bring the situation back onto the track of dialogue and negotiation," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in Beijing, according to the Chinese official Xinhua News Agency.

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