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U.S. Intelligence Report Gave Impetus to False Story About Kim Death

November 22, 1986|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — A U.S. official here said Friday that this week's South Korean announcement of the reported death of North Korean President Kim Il Sung "started with a report that originated in the U.S. government."

That intelligence report about Kim's death, the existence of which has not been disclosed previously, "was the source of information that alerted the Korean government to be on the lookout for anything unusual," said the official, who refused to be identified.

U.S. diplomats and military officers informed their South Korean counterparts Sunday morning of the report, which U.S. officials "believed should be taken seriously," he said.

Several hours later, South Korean troops in the 151-mile-long demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North Korea and South Korea started hearing what they said were unusual broadcasts from Communist propaganda loudspeakers. Sad music was played on some of the loudspeakers, the Korean Defense Ministry said. Others started praising the achievements of "Great Leader Kim Il Sung," the ministry added.

Heard at 36 Locations

From 8 p.m. Sunday, when one loudspeaker announced that Kim, 74, had been shot to death on a train, until 10:04 a.m. Tuesday, broadcasts indicating that Kim was dead continued at a total of 36 different locations in the DMZ, the Defense Ministry said.

On Monday morning, when it announced the contents of the reported loudspeaker broadcasts, the ministry said nothing about the Sunday U.S. intelligence report. American officials here still have not mentioned it while speaking for attribution.

The U.S. official said the key intelligence report, although about Kim Il Sung's death, was different from an unconfirmed rumor that originated in Tokyo on Saturday. But it "lent credence to the Tokyo rumor," he added.

Although the official refused to disclose details about the report or where it originated, he indicated it was not based upon monitoring of radio broadcasts in North Korea, which he said remained normal.

It was, he said, "a report you had to take seriously."

Indicative, Not Conclusive

American officials, he said, believed that the report "appeared to be indicative"--but not conclusive--of Kim's death, and informed the South Korean Foreign Ministry, the Agency for National Security Planning (the former Korean CIA) and South Korean military officials, who he said "had not heard of it,"

The official said that Gen. William J. Livsey, commander of U.S. forces in Korea and the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, "alerted people to be on the watch for possible changes."

Asked if the report might have encouraged the South Korean Defense Ministry to make its Monday announcement, the U.S. official refused to speculate. But he said, "They obviously ran with it a lot harder than we did."

Before they made their announcement, Korean Defense Ministry officials were told that "we would continue to say that we could not confirm the death of Kim Il Sung," he said.

The South Korean announcement Monday was proven false 24 hours later by Kim's appearance at the airport in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to greet visiting Mongolian leader Jambyn Batmonh, leaving the Seoul government severely embarrassed and its credibility damaged at home and abroad.

Condemned by Opposition

The opposition New Korea Democratic Party in a party caucus Friday repeated its condemnation of the government for "incompetence, lack of principles, and irresponsibility" in the handling of the announcement and reiterated a demand that the Cabinet resign en masse.

Prime Minister Lho Shin Yong on Friday urged the opposition to drop its criticism of the government over the incident, saying, "Continued wrangling can only play into North Korea's hands."

Lho acknowledged Wednesday in testimony to Parliament that the South Koreans probably had fallen prey to what he called a North Korean "disinformation" scheme designed to "tarnish our international credibility and estrange the people from the government."

Lho said he was "bewildered" that the North Koreans had used for propaganda purposes the name of Kim Il Sung, who has been deified by a personality cult built up through more than 40 years. Kim was installed as the leader of the northern half of the country by Soviet occupation troops who took over after Japan, Korea's colonial ruler between 1910 and 1945, was ousted at the end of World War II. American troops occupied the southern half of the country, where the Republic of Korea was established in 1948.

Not Confirmed by U.S.

Adding to the embarrassment for the government of President Chun Doo Hwan was the inability of the United States, which stations more than 40,000 troops here, including about 1,500 in or near the DMZ, to confirm South Korean reports about the loudspeaker broadcasts or sightings of flags flown at half-staff at North Korean outposts.

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