WASHINGTON -- South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-Jung left for home today and ended two years of exile in the United States, saying he expected to be placed under house arrest upon his return to Seoul.
More than 100 supporters, waving signs and shouting 'Man sei!' or 'Long live' greeted Kim at Washington's National Airport. Kim was to stop off in Tokyo before traveling to South Korea.
His 38-member delegation included 24 Americans who went along to insure his safety on arrival. They included two Congressmen, Rep. Edward Feighan, D-Ohio, and Rep. Tom Foglietta D-Pa., and the former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador Robert. E. White.
Asked if he expected to face house arrest, he said, 'That is a strong possibility, but I will oppose it because the government doesn't have any good ground to hold me because I am an innocent victim.'
Kim said he learned from his son that South Korean security officials already have surrounded his house in Seoul and have installed floodlights around it.
'They also have distributed hundreds of thousands of documents in a smear campaign against me. The documents say I am a demogogue, a perpetrator of social chaos,' he told a reporter with a smile.
Feighan said he was accompanying Kim to 'bring added visibility to his return to South Korea, which I hope will bring added security, as well.'
The congressman said Kim's return is similar to the repatriation of Philippine opposition leader Benigno Aquino to his homeland on Aug. 21, 1983. He was shot to death on arrival at Manila Airport.
Kim said he was turning to promote enthusiasm among his supporters for the parliamentary elections Feb. 12.
'I am now going back to my country where dangers await me,' Kim told a farewell news conference Tuesday. 'I strongly hope the Korean government will be reasonable in dealing with me.
'If the Korean government is moderate, I will also be very moderate so that my return will not result in creating any instability,' said Kim. 'I am ready to engage in constructive dialogue to bring about the peaceful restoration of democracy.'
But Kim said he could not accept house arrest. 'I think there will be protests from our people,' he said on the NBC 'Today' program less than three hours before his departure.
Patricia Derian, the State Department's human rights specialist during the Carter Administration, said she would accompany Kim to Seoul. She said the speculation is that the Korean government wants to put 'Mr. Kim on ice' until after the state visit of President Chun Do Hwan to Washington in March.
After that, she said, 'Then is the great unknown. Then is the serious problem.'
Derian said the Reagan administration needs to speak out on Kim's behalf but expressed some doubt that it would. 'They seem to have swallowed the Aquino assassination with more equanimity than one would accept.'
Kim said he does not believe reports, which he blamed on the South Korean government, that agents from communist North Korea might kill him.
'I don't think North Korea will commit such crime. Rather, I'm afraid there will be another Aquino case committed by the government disguising communist assassination,' said Kim, speaking in broken English.
Kim said Seoul showed 'the beginning of a reasonable attitude' by pledging Monday, under pressure from Washington, not to arrest him when he returns.
But he said he has strong indications he will be put under house arrest.
Kim also said he requested a meeting with President Reagan but was told 'he didn't have the time.'
State Department officials reportedly tried to persuade Kim to delay his return until May, after Korean President Chun Doo Hwan's April visit to Washington. But Kim said he could not wait.
Kim, 59, who came close to election as South Korean's president in 1971, came to the United States in 1982 and still faces 17 years of a 20-year prison term for a 1980 sedition conviction.
Late Tuesday, a Korean member of Kim's delegation said he had been denied a visa by the Japanese government that would allow him to stop there on the way to Seoul.
Lee Shin Bom, 35, director of the Center for Development Policy, said he was informed of the action by the Japanese Embassy, but the embassy said today the visa was not denied.
Lee, a co-defendant of Kim's with six years left in a prison term, said he was told if he would withdraw his visa application he would probably be allowed to spend the night in Tokyo. Lee said he had wanted to stay in Japan for several days before joining Kim in Seoul.
Delegation member Pharis Harvey, director of the North American Coalition for Human Rights in Korea, said the action 'seems to represent a knuckling under by the Japanese government to Korean government pressure.'