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Kim Jong Il death: Koreatown reacts with joy and worry

December 19, 2011 |  7:28 am


Los Angeles' Koreatown reacted with both glee and anxiety on hearing about the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

"I saw it as someone who should have passed long ago finally having passed," said a North Korean defector now living in L.A., who asked not to be named because of the nature of his escape from North Korea. "It was something that should have happened long ago."

Kim's death was announced Monday by a weeping anchorwoman on North Korean state television. The mercurial strongman, who styled himself as "Dear Leader" while ruling over an impoverished police state, was reported to have died from a heart attack Saturday while traveling by train. He also had chronic illnesses.

PHOTOS: Kim Jong Il | 1942-2011

In grocery stores, shopping plazas and all-night diners in L.A.'s Koreatown, the news of Kim's death was greeted with both unrestrained joy and a deep sense of concern.

Yoon-hui Kim, a defector who fled North Korea about 10 years ago by crossing the border into China, said refugees were all on edge waiting to see what would happen next.

Many still have family back in North Korea and are deeply concerned about what fate their relatives may face in the immediate future, she said. 

FULL COVERAGE: Kim Jong Il | 1942-2011

"It was no surprise, since we all knew he was ill," said Kim, who is in her late 30s, but was careful with personal details about herself. "The most worrying is what will happen to the North Korean people."

Kim said she felt the situation was particularly volatile and unpredictable because neither South Korea nor China would be in a position to influence the country.

"All we can do is wait and see," she said.

STORY: Obituary on Kim Jong Il

Jung Im Moon, a pastor who heads Arise Mission Church, a small congregation of about 20 North Korean refugees in Los Angeles, said she knew hard times were coming for North Korea's people.

"It was great news. It was so shocking," said Moon, who has been working with the refugees for about eight years. "Personally, I think it was just a matter of time."

She said she was reluctant to broach any political topic with her congregants because it was sensitive and painful for most. Many of them are nostalgic for the homeland they left behind and are hesitant to criticize the regime because of the repression they experienced as youngsters, Moon said.

Badral Ulziitogtokh, a 23-year-old originally from Mongolia, said the Long Beach church he attends has been praying for the death of the North Korean leader.

Ulziitogtokh said North and South Korea have been divided for so long and have a distrust of one another that runs so deep, few remember anything different.

"I don't know if this will be a turning point," he said. "But I hope so."


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