SEOUL, JAN. 15 (FRIDAY) -- A woman arrested in connection with the sabotage of a South Korean airliner said today that she is a North Korean intelligence agent who planted a time bomb on the plane after being given orders "personally penned" by Kim Jong Il, son of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
The woman, who has been under interrogation in Seoul for the past month, said at a news conference at the National Security Planning Agency, the South Korean CIA, that her name is Kim Hyon Hui, 26. She said her father is a North Korean diplomat currently stationed in Angola. She said she and a 70-year-old male accomplice named Kim Sung Il, also an alleged North Korean intelligence agent, placed a detonator in a radio and liquid explosive concealed in a liquor bottle in an overhead luggage compartment on the plane.
Korean Air Flight 858 disappeared while flying from the Middle East to South Korea Nov. 29. Officials say it was blown up in midair, killing all 115 aboard.
"I feel very sorry for the victims and their families," the woman, on the verge of tears, said in a barely audible voice. "I have decided to disclose the truth as a small way to repent for the crime." The news conference abruptly ended when she began sobbing after less than 15 minutes.
The two alleged North Korean agents traveled on the first leg of the flight, from Baghdad to Abu Dhabi, and then got off. When they were questioned by police, the older man swallowed a cyanide capsule and died, while the woman failed in a similar suicide attempt. She was extradited to South Korea on Dec. 15.
It was impossible to tell whether the woman's remarks, and her written confession released to reporters, were coerced. During the news conference, broadcast live on South Korean television, she kept her head down and had a pained expression on her face. She did not respond for nearly a minute to the first question. When it was asked a second time, she began speaking haltingly, appearing to hold back tears.
There was no indication whether the South Koreans had obtained any independent evidence to verify their claims. North Korea has denied that it was involved in the sabotage.
The South Korean Information Ministry called approximately 100 local and foreign correspondents at midnight to inform them of today's "special briefing." The corresponents were taken by bus to the security agency's headquarters.
Officials said earlier they had to be careful about the timing of the release of Kim's reported confession so as not to offend communist countries, who earlier this week agreed to participate in the Olympic Games, scheduled to take place in Seoul in September.
In her written confession, the woman said the bombing was carefully organized to destabilize South Korea during its presidential election campaign last month and increase international concerns about Seoul's ability to host the Olympics.
According to a senior South Korean security official who briefed reporters, Kim confessed her role because "she began to realize that she had been exploited as a tool for North Korean terrorist activities."
The woman, dressed in the same checkered jacket and T-shirt that she was wearing when she arrived in Seoul a month ago, said she changed her loyalty after watching South Korean television and being driven around Seoul by her investigators.