There is no doubt in the minds of most South Koreans that North Korea was behind the Sunday bomb attack in Burma that killed almost all the top foreign affairs and economic advisers to President Chun Doo Hwan.
The attack will likely cause the Chun regime to seriously review it current policy of seeking peaceful reunification with the North, although such a change has not been made yet.
The Rangoon bombing, which took the lives of 16 South Koreans and 3 Burmese, is not the first North Korean attempt on the life of President Chun, according to South Korean officials.
Last year, Canadian authorities uncovered and thwarted a plot against Chun's life by North Korean agents in Canada a few days before the South Korean President made a visit to that country in August.
In addition to attempts on Presdent Chun's life, North Korea has in recent years violated the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement by sending armed infiltrators across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the South from the North. North Korea has also dug a dozen infiltration tunnels in the DMZ. This summer North Korean commandos were killed by South Korean coastal patrols while trying to land on the country's east coast where three nuclear power plants are located.
As one South Korean observer put it, ''The Rangoon incident has ominous implications that go far beyond bilateral relations between Seoul and Rangoon.
''Although future relations between the two countries will hinge on how Burma handles the aftermath of the incident, Seoul's attempt to improve ties with previously pro-North Korean Burma is expected to suffer a setback. Besides aggravating the tensions between South and North Korea, the incident is also likely to strain the unofficial relations between Seoul and Washington, which has recently permitted its diplomats to make 'informal contacts' with North Korean officials at diplomatic functions at home and abroad.''
(The Burmese government announced Tuesday that its police had killed one Korean terrorist, captured another, and is seeking a third in connection with Sunday's bombing, Reuter reports. It was not known whether the Koreans were from North or South Korea.)
In South Korea, the North was bitterly criticized for committing ''a barbaric act.'' Kim Yong-Tae, spokesman for the ruling Democratic Justice Party, said, ''We condemn this terrorism against God and man in the name of the Korean people and mankind.''
Mok Yo-Sang, speaking for the opposition Democratic Korean Party, expressed his view that ''North Korea deserves to be condemned in the name of the people of the world.'' He said that his party offers its ''sincere condolences to the victims of the bereaved families.'' Another opposition party, Korean National Party, through its spokesman Kim Yan-Tae, also issued a similar statement and added, ''Everyone should display wisdom and courage to cope with the crisis.''
South Korean officials believe that Washington's present policy may go through a thorough modification.
Meanwhile, South Korean Cabinet members, top economic organizations, and business groups have been holding emergency meetings to come up with measures to cope with the crisis brought about by the blast in Rangoon.
It is still uncertain how far the repercussions from the tragic incident will expand or how long they will last. But it's important to note that the victims were largely responsible for the country's miraculous transformation from a poverty-stricken agrarian society into an important industrial state in the past two decades. They included Deputy Prime Minister and Economic Planning Minister Fuh Fuk-Joon; Foreign Minister Lee Bum-Suk; Kim Dong-Whie, commerce and industry minister; Suh Sang-Chul, energy and resources minister; Hahm Pyong-Choon, chief presidential secretary and former ambassador to Washington; and Kim Jae-Ik, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs.
Mostly US-educated, they represented a new breed of innovative and pragmatic South Korean technocrats who had a moderating influence on the South Korean government headed by a former army general who came to power following the assassination of President Park Chung-Hee on Oct. 26, 1979.
The South Korean government is expected to announce a new Cabinet after the funeral, scheduled for Thursday. It is assumed that the new team will consist of young US-educated technocrats with equally pragmatic and progressive views.