Japanese and South Korean analysts believe that the bombing in Rangoon that killed 17 South Koreans and four Burmese was probably planned under the supervision of the son and heir apparent to North Korean President Kim Il Sung.
Although they lack hard evidence, they say that the breadth of the plot as it has been unfolded in a Burmese courtroom and the connections it required point to the involvement of officials high in the North Korean government.
The analysts tend to exclude the president himself on circumstantial grounds and believe it more likely that his son, Kim Jong Il, and military officials allied with him sanctioned the operation.
They suspect that he may have done so as part of an effort to establish his authority in Pyongyang as the Communist country's next president, after his aging father leaves the scene.
Explosives planted in a Burmese hero's mausoleum on Oct. 9 killed four South Korean Cabinet ministers and two top aides to President Chun Doo Hwan. It apparently was an assassination plot against Chun, who was being driven to the scene for a wreath-laying ceremony when the blast occurred.
Burma, which has broken diplomatic relations with North Korea, put two captured North Korean officers on trial--the third was killed--and the prosecution's case against them has documented a wide-ranging plot that has surprised even South Koreans.
The evidence has suggested that the bombing was planned weeks in advance, involved high-ranking military officers and required the complicity of a number of government agencies. The testimony showed, for example, that the bombers left for Burma on a North Korean trading vessel at least a month before the blast and prepared for it with sophisticated equipment inside the home of a North Korean diplomat in Rangoon.
One of those on trial has confessed that his orders came from a Gen. Kang Chung Su, who, according to South Korean officials, is the commander of a division of North Korean commandos.
Analysts here and in Tokyo insist that it is unlikely that Kang ordered the assassination attempt without orders from higher-ups.
"General Kang could not have done it alone," one high South Korean official said this week. "We believe it was Kim Jong Il. He probably thought that if the assassination were successful and killed the president Chun , South Korea would be in chaos."
The official also said it is believed the North Koreans plotted a second-stage commando assault inside South Korean territory to take advantage of the confusion that would have resulted from the assassination.
He said the second stage probably would have involved the infiltration of several thousand commandos dressed in South Korean and U.S. uniforms to add to the chaos.
Japanese analysts also point toward Kim Jong Il as the plotter, largely because they say there is evidence that his father has recently embarked on a campaign to seek talks with Japan and the United States on easing tensions on the Korean peninsula. They said they now believe that Kim Il Sung was the initiator of the offer to hold talks that was passed on by Chinese leaders shortly before the bomb was exploded in Rangoon. The Japanese tend to regard that offer as sincere and important and think Kim Il Sung would not have risked having it shot down by such an act as the explosion in Rangoon.
Some American diplomats share that view. "I have always thought that Kim Il Sung is not a pleasant fellow but I have never thought he was a madman," one U.S. official said recently.
The idea of holding peace talks has been at least temporarily snuffed out by the assassination attempt and South Korea's determination to use it in a worldwide campaign to increase North Korea's isolation.
Although South Korean officials have decided against retaliation for the bombing, they are not in the mood to think about reducing tension.
"We simply do not know how to reduce tensions," one high official acknowledged. "Emotionally, it is very difficult for us to cool down. Emotionally, we would like to retaliate, but we fear that that would lead simply to more commando attacks."