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Shell-shocked S.Korean evacuees find home at spa

By Park Chan-Kyong

SEOUL, Wednesday 1 December 2010 (AFP) - Hundreds of residents who fled a frontline South Korean island shelled by North Korea are being lodged at a health club, many of them complaining of post-traumatic depression, officials said Wednesday.

Some 1,250 of the 1,361 residents of Yeonpyeong island fled to the mainland port city of Incheon after the deadly attack and about 350 of them have found emergency lodgings at the health spa, a local official told AFP.

Others are staying with relatives or in motels.

They are still agitated eight days after the deadly shelling of the island near the disputed Yellow Sea border, which killed two civilians and two marines and injured 18 other people.

In what it called retaliation for a firing drill by South Korean marines based on the island, the North fired up to 170 shells of which 80 hit the island, destroying 29 homes and setting hillsides and fields ablaze.

It was the first time a civilian area in the South had been shelled since the 1950-53 war.

"Some of them want to return home while others say they will never go back to the island," the Ongjin county official, who was taking care of the evacuees at the health spa, said by phone.

"They also take their meals here at this spa and the Ongjin county government will refund the cost afterwards," he said, on condition of anonymity.

Apart from sleeping at the spa, many also spend their daytime hours there, listening to official announcements about plans by the central or local governments to offer support and compensation.

The Incheon city government is considering housing evacuees in newly built but unsold apartments in nearby Gimpo City. The central government plans to offer higher cash compensation than the sum normally paid for natural disasters.

Islanders complain of psychological side-effects and trauma from the shock of the shelling such as disturbed heartbeats, nausea, severe headaches, stomach burns and sensitive reactions to sounds.

Officials cannot yet say when or whether all the residents will return home. Tension remains high along the flashpoint border and Seoul is shipping more troops and artillery to Yeonpyeong and four other islands.

Some 100 evacuated schoolchildren are taking a week-long English course to keep them occupied. The education ministry plans to spend some 650,000 dollars repairing the only school on the island.

The ruling party is pushing for incentives to encourage settlement or resettlement on the islands.

"If (we are) pushed back from Yeonpyeong and the other four islands, the entire southern half of the Korean peninsula will also be pushed back," said Grand National Party floor leader Kim Moo-Sung last week.

A parliamentary bill would provide further state aid for modernised housing, school fees and supplements for farmers' and fishermen's incomes.

The fishermen, who earn up to 80 percent of their income on autumn catches of crabs, are growing increasingly nervous at the unstable situation in the area, which has led to a temporary ban on fishing.

"We cast our crab cages along the border with the North, but what if the North Koreans make a fuss every time we let them out or gather them in?" an unidentified fisherman was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

"I saw on the news recently that the North threatened to fire if we took even one step across the border. They might send out patrol boats and carry us away."

MySinchew 2010.12.01


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