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Many South Koreans indifferent about North

Polls show S. Koreans haven't completely accepted findings that N. Korea blew up their warship.

But like Kim, other Koreans refuse to believe their government on this point. A May 22 poll by South Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo found that 21 percent of South Koreans still did not believe North Korea was involved in the incident. Another May 26 poll conducted by three journalist unions found that 41 percent of Korean journalists — perhaps those most in touch with their government’s record of veracity — also do not believe the findings.

“It’s really extraordinary, when you think about it, that for the rest of the world it’s incontrovertible, but for South Koreans, it’s just not enough,” Myers said.

He says much of the skepticism can be attributed to a sizable population of bona fide North Korean sympathizers who are especially concentrated in the southwest. They resent President Lee Myung-bak’s strict stance toward the North, which departs from the magnanimous “sunshine policy” of prior administrations.

“People don’t understand that about 20 percent of the population here not only really sympathize with North Korea but actually sympathize with the regime. They actually take their sides in disagreements with the South,” he said.

Most South Koreans believe the North sank their warship, said Peter Beck, a Pantec research fellow at Stanford University. Still, he added that “the average Korean” has not completely accepted the findings and continues to cast doubts on various details. Some would say this makes sense in a country where every president since the 1980s has been accused for corruption.

Critics see indications of a cover-up and question why the government has failed to produce important evidence like the ship’s radio communication tapes.

A great many South Koreans are also cynical about Lee’s handling of the incident. They accuse him of using the event for political gain to rally conservative-leaning voters to his party prior to the gubernatorial elections that took place yesterday.

Kim would be one such skeptic. “It’s a fabricated story just for the upcoming election,” she said last month.

But despite doubts circulating the liberal-laden blogosphere, experts say more and more unsure Koreans are coming to terms with evidence that Beck calls “too strong to question at this point.”

Shin would fall into this group.

“I want to believe that it’s not North Korea who attacked our ship. However, I am now confused very much. The rumor saying our government made up the whole story … is not acceptable,” she said.

Others have taken their government at its word from the get-go and are just plain fed up with the North.

“During the two horrible years in the army, I was always under stress just because of them. I want to be set free from it,” said Kim Dong-hyun, a 23-year-old who just completed the two years of mandatory military service required of all Korean men.

Indeed, North Korea Heritage Foundation analyst Bruce Klingner says the new generation of Koreans hold views more like this ex-soldier’s than those of liberals Shin and Kim.

“For them it’s less affinity for North Korea, more interest in making money,” he said.

Journalist Lee Ji-sook contributed to this report.