NEWS

Canadians in South Korea keep a wary eye on the North after death of Kim Jong Il

12/20/2011 01:04 EST | Updated 02/19/2012 05:12 EST
DAEGU, South Korea - Though life goes on for those who live in South Korea, the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has left some Canadians who live there with a sense of underlying nervousness.

Calgary native Craig White, who lives in Daegu, a city of more than 2.5 million people in southeastern Korea, said he thinks the North will want to display a show of strength, though his worries don't extend to a full-scale attack.

"I'm more worried about regime collapse, which would trigger an Asian economic crisis that would sink the regional economies for the next 10 years," said White, the managing editor of the multilingual newspaper InDaegu.

Kim Jong Il died Saturday at the age of 69 following what North Korea says was a massive heart attack caused by overwork and stress. Precious little is known about his son and successor, Kim Jong Un.

It's those unknowns that are the greatest source of anxiety, said Michelle Van Balkom, a Korean resident who hails originally from Port Coquitlam, B.C.

"He might do something completely outside the box, or he might completely surprise us."

However, those who have lived in the country for a while are far less worried than those who are newly arrived, said Corey Sitar, from St. Claude, Man.

"I'm no more worried of an attack today than I was last week or last month," said Sitar, an assistant professor at Yeungjin College in Daegu who has lived in South Korea for 12 years.

"Many of these newbies are asking questions about leaving the country and how best to protect themselves."

Nakia Myers of Toronto, one of an estimated 330 Canadians in Daegu, according to city data, said none of her colleagues at the Moon Kkang English Academy spoke of Kim’s death when she arrived to work on Monday.

But Myers said she knew something was amiss as early as Saturday night when U.S. military personnel posted in Daegu had vanished from the downtown core.

"Whenever we don't see them, it signals that something is happening," Myers said. "But we never know about it and that's the thing that's kind of scary."

Seoul is only 200 kilometres from Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, but they are separated by bitter differences and a long history of bloodshed.

The peninsula is still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty; for the past 17 years, Kim Jong Il has been an omnipresent — often threatening — figure for South Koreans.

— by Melinda Maldonado in Toronto, with files from The Associated Press

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