US and Japan denounce N. Korea on terror. Bombing last year seen as bid to disrupt run-up to S. Korea Olympics
Washington — Japan and the United States have passed sanctions against North Korea for engineering the Nov. 29 bombing of a South Korean jetliner. The European Community is also expected to issue a condemnation Thursday, US authorities say.
Washington last week put North Korea on its exclusive list of countries practicing international terrorism and Japan yesterday slapped on diplomatic and travel restrictions.
Officials point to what they call a long pattern of terrorist activities on the part of the North Koreans. Over the last week, new information has come to light about North Korean kidnappings of foreigners for intelligence uses.
In the November bombing, 115 people were killed; one of the two agents who planted the bomb died from self-inflicted poison after capture. US terrorism specialists say North Korea was suspected from the start. The confession of a North Korean woman who helped plant the bomb was conclusive.
Before accepting her confession in South Korean custody, US officials carefully interviewed her. They wanted to verify that the woman was not coerced to confess and that her testimony was credible. They came away convinced, as did the Japanese.
Tokyo is directly involved in the case because the agents who planted the bomb were traveling on false Japanese passports.
Since the US has no diplomatic relations and very little trade with North Korea, the direct effect of the US move to designate that country as a supporter of international terrorism will be minimal. The US will no longer allow even informal chats between US and North Korean diplomats, and extra scrutiny will be given to anything involving that country.
However, US officials say, the move it will add to international pressure on North Korea to abide by accepted norms, officials say. Tokyo's sanctions will add to this momentum, they say.
The Japanese severely restricted diplomatic contacts with North Korea and suspended all flights between the two countries (which have no formal diplomatic ties). No Japanese officials will be permitted to visit North Korea, and no North Korean officials will be allowed to enter Japan.
``This terrorist act by North Korea should be strongly denounced and spurned by international society,'' said Keizo Obuchi, chief secretary of the Japanese Cabinet, yesterday.
Still, Tokyo had humanitarian reasons for wishing to proceed cautiously against North Korea: Two Japanese seamen have been held captive in North Korea for several years.
South Korea has decided to play the incident in a very statesmanlike way, US officials add. They will show their outrage and ask for international condemnation of the act, but they want to preserve a good atmosphere for the Olympic Games, for which they will be host in September.
US specialists on Korea see the bombing as part of North Korea's effort to destabilize the Games. They say the clear evidence in this case takes away the ``plausible deniability'' for further terrorism by the North and express hope that international condemnation will constrain North Korea.
The woman who confessed to having helped plant the bomb, pointed to a possible attempt by the North to destabilize the South. She says a Japanese woman who helped train her revealed that she had been kidnapped by North Korean agents. Japanese authorities will reportedly show her pictures of three Japanese women mysteriously kidnapped in 1978 to see if her tutor was among them.
A former South Korean actress, who was kidnapped by North Korea in 1978 and escaped in 1986, told the Washington Post last week that while in captivity she had meet a Jordanian and a Chinese woman who had also been kidnapped. She said she had heard of French and Malaysian women held against their will.
Iran, Libya, South Yemen, Cuba, and Syria are also on the US terrorism list.
Takashi Oka contributed to this report from Tokyo.