TORONTO — Shock waves rolled through Canada’s Korean community Tuesday as its members struggled to accept news of a significant military clash between the South and the Communist North.
Word that North Korea had launched a deadly artillery attack on a populous civilian area near the South Korean border sparked fear that long-simmering tensions between the two countries would quickly reach a boiling point and endanger friends and family still living in the conflicted region.
The skirmish began when Pyongyang warned the South to halt military drills in the area, according to South Korean officials. When Seoul refused and began firing artillery into disputed waters, albeit away from the North Korean shore, the North retaliated by bombarding the small island of Yeonpyeong, which houses South Korean military installations and a small civilian population.
The attack killed two South Korean marines, injured three civilians, and set dozens of buildings ablaze.
South Korea responded by firing K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzers and dispatching fighter jets. Officials in Seoul warned there could be considerable North Korean casualties.
The entire skirmish lasted about an hour.
Anxiety and dismay dominated the mood at Toronto’s Korean Canadian Cultural Association — a community centre and educational hub for the city’s Korean population.
Katie Jung, 38, said news of the clash left her and her colleagues at the association stunned.
“This is a really unthinkable situation, I can’t believe it,” said Jung, who grew up hearing tales of horror from the Korean War that ended in 1953.
Up until last month, Jung’s parents lived just a few kilometres away from the North Korean border. She derives little comfort from the fact that they now live further away from the conflict zone, saying the country’s geography makes any attack a dangerous prospect.
“South Korea is not a big land. It doesn’t matter you live near the border or south of that, actually it doesn’t matter,” she said.
Dennis Hong, president of the Calgary Korean Association, had similar fears for his family members back home.
Despite the fact that the countries have endured numerous military clashes and in fact never officially declared an end to the Korean War, Hong said the most recent incident has caused him more concern.
“I live in Canada, but that’s my home country, right? So I feel so bad to North Korea, what they do right now.”