South Korean soldiers patrol on the island of Yeonpyeong near the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea at dawn on Sunday.
(Photo: Jung Yeon-Je, AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL (USA Today) -- Reaction among South Korean residents was muted here Sunday after North Korea rebuffed the South's proposal to resolve rising tensions through dialogue, dismissing it as a "crafty trick" by the rival.
"I'm not surprised they don't want to talk. North Korea has done this kind of thing before," said Ellin Park, 26, a hotel receptionist.
Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula for weeks, with Pyongyang threatening to attack Seoul and Washington for conducting joint military drills and for supporting U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea for a February nuclear test.
While the threats are largely seen as rhetoric, U.S. and South Korean officials have said they believe North Korea may test-fire a midrange missile designed to reach the U.S. territory of Guam.
North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said Sunday that Pyongyang has no intention of talking with Seoul unless it abandons its confrontational posture. South Korea's presidential Blue House said North Korea's rebuttal of its dialogue offer was "very regrettable."
Residents enjoying a sunny Sunday at a flower festival in central Seoul and those worshiping at one of the city's many churches appeared unconcerned with the threats.
"The world worries there will be a war between North Korea and South Korea, but here we are not worried," Park said. "Kim Jung Un is afraid of his own people, so he wants to show off his strength."
At the Presbyterian Saemoonahn church, Pastor Lee Sou-Young made the 1,000 worshipers laugh Sunday morning by joking that some Koreans who failed to escape to America were rushing to Busan, Korea's southernmost city.
"I'm not so worried, as they are not serious, the threat is not real," said Lee, 66, after the service. "North Korea expects something, politically and diplomatically, from South Korea and the USA. It's their typical strategy. They are not able to carry out the war."
As a stay-or-go dilemma faces many Americans in South Korea, most here appear to agree that the danger is exaggerated.
"I'm not worried at all, nobody here seems to be concerned about it," John Franks, 26, said Saturday.
North Korean leader "Kim (Jong Un) is making bellicose statements to solidify his own power," said Franks, who is from New Jersey and has taught English in South Korea's capital city for the past year. "It's only a year since Kim formally assumed office, and one way to get everyone on side is to stir up a lot of noise."
Still, not everyone has stayed put as North Korea has increased its bellicose rhetoric in the past several weeks, including threats to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire."
One U.S. student left Seoul last week to return to Redding, Calif., two months before her class completed a year's study program in the South Korean capital.
"She was worried about the situation, but the rest of the 50 international students still remain," said classmate Hailey Atkins, 19, also from Redding, Calif.
Atkins, however, isn't concerned. "I'm not worried," she said Saturday. "Every day I'm surrounded by Korean friends, and there is no atmosphere of worry. They make jokes about the military threat. My parents (in the USA) are very, very worried. I say 'I know,' and I tell them it's so calm here."
Contributing: The Associated Press