SEOUL, JAN. 15 -- A North Korean spy's chilling confession about bombing a South Korean passenger jet has provided a unique glimpse into the workings of the North's alleged terrorism network, but the disclosures come at an awkward moment for the South, which wants to play down potential security threats to the Seoul Olympic Games.

In a spellbinding news conference broadcast live this morning on national television, confessed spy Kim Hyon Hui spoke emotionally about sabotage and suicide, poison and politics, deception and detonators. From her start as a child actress, Kim, 26, said she underwent seven years of espionage training that culminated with personal orders from Kim Jong Il, son of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, to plant time bombs aboard a Korean Air flight.

She succeeded with deadly professionalism: an apparent midair explosion on Nov. 29 sent KAL Flight 858 from Baghdad to Seoul plummeting into the Andaman Sea off Burma, killing all 115 people on board. Kim and an older male accomplice had left the plane at a stopover in Abu Dhabi and traveled to Bahrain, where they were arrested while trying to leave the country. Almost immediately after airport police detained them, the couple swallowed cyanide capsules hidden in cigarette filters. The man died but Kim survived and was extradited to South Korea.

In the wake of her confession, which many western diplomats in Seoul regard as credible, authorities here issued harsh denunciations of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. "North Korea will not be able to get away with its barbarous terrorism without receiving appropriate punishment for it, including retaliation commensurate with its gravity," government spokesman Lee Woon Hee warned today.

As the armed forces were put on the highest state of military alert, the government-influenced Korea Herald newspaper called for the punishment of "Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and their murder machine."

But western diplomats in Seoul said that any serious retaliation against the North would undercut South Korea's efforts to assure a calm climate for the Seoul Olympics in September.

"I suspect that South Korea will adopt a very measured and prudent approach to this case," said a western diplomat who closely follows North Korean affairs. A senior government official said that although passions are high, "I don't think anything specific is in the picture at the moment."

{In Washington, a State Department official told The Associated Press that South Korea has told the United States it is not planning military retaliation. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the two nations were consulting "on possible actions," and added, "I would rule out military action."}

{Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency denounced the South Korean charges as "a fabrication full of lies, deception and contradiction."}

In the past, North Korea was alleged to have committed serious attacks against South Korean targets -- such as a 1983 bombing in Rangoon, Burma, that killed four South Korean Cabinet ministers and 14 other officials -- but retaliation was relatively limited. North Korea's drive for self-sufficiency makes it difficult to hurt through trade or even diplomatic sanctions.

According to South Korean officials, Kim Hyon Hui refused to speak for her first eight days in South Korea. She was able to watch South Korean television, and some reports said she was driven around Seoul and taken to restaurants to disprove the North's propaganda about the South. On the eighth day, the officials said, Kim began confessing.

"In the North I felt that South Korea is where U.S. imperialists dominate everything, but what I saw here made me feel that South Korea values nationalism more than North Korea," she said today.

Some observers were surprised that Kim, as an elite North Korean intelligence agent, would change her mind about the South in just eight days. Her emotional state during the news conference -- her voice was barely audible and she broke into sobs after less than 15 minutes -- appeared to raise questions about the reliability of her remarks, although South Korean officials attributed this to extreme remorse.

"I deserve to die a hundred times over, but before I die I decided to reveal the whole truth of the incident to help make up for the horrible crime I committed," she said.

Although her written confession is 10 pages long in its English version, many questions remain unanswered. Did her orders really originate with Kim Jong Il, and did they have the approval of Kim Il Sung? "It's the same problem we had in Rangoon," said the western diplomat, who spoke on condition that he not be named. "It's impossible to say how this kind of operation is ordered."

However, the National Security Planning Agency, formerly the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, issued documents, based primarily on its interrogation of Kim Hyon Hui, detailing how North Korea chooses, trains and dispatches intelligence agents.

In 1980, the agency said, Kim, the oldest daughter of a North Korean diplomat, was recruited as an intelligence operative because of her "outstanding beauty, talent and family background." She had a year of training in political ideologies, martial arts and shooting, followed by two years of familiarization with the Japanese language and customs so she could eventually pass for a Japanese. (She was traveling on a false Japanese passport when arrested in Bahrain.)

In 1984 she was paired with Kim Sung Il, her now-deceased accomplice, as a "father-daughter" sabotage team. The two received three years of training in covert operations, "including bombing, foreign languages and adaptation to capitalist cultures," the document said.

The couple was dispatched from Pyongyang in early November on their mission to bomb the Korean Air jet, the agency said, and spent two weeks posing as tourists in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, aided by North Korean diplomats in Moscow, Budapest and Vienna.

In Belgrade, their last stop before flying to Baghdad to catch the Korean Air jet, the two were given a portable Panasonic radio altered to contain a plastic explosive called Composition C4, and a whiskey bottle filled with a liquid explosive. According to the agency, airport guards in Baghdad almost foiled the bombing when they tried to confiscate the radio's batteries, but Kim Sung Il refused to give them up.