TOKYO -- An Asian couple who got off a Korean jetliner at its last stop before it crashed on the Thai-Burma border and who later swallowed poison during questioning at Bahrain airport may have been North Korean agents, a law enforcement source said today.
But a Korean Air official in Seoul said today the theory that North Korean agents were involved 'is just a guess. We have no confirmation.'
The man questioned by authorities in Bahrain died shortly after biting into a cyanide-laced cigarette Tuesday. The woman is expected to survive to face questioning on what role, if any, the couple played in sending Korean Air flight 858 with 115 people aboard crashing into a rebel-controlled area of Burma near the Thai border Sunday.
'The pattern of their behavior is different from that of Japanese radicals,' said a Tokyo police official who requested anonymity. 'They are likely to be North Korean agents.'
The official said Japanese radicals have never been known to commit suicide upon capture. But there was no other confirmation of the Tokyo police official's statements.
Darkness fell today without search parties along the Thai-Burma border sighting any wreckage from the KAL jetliner, Search and Rescue Center officials in Thailand said.
Initial reports indicated search teams had spotted the wreckage of the Boeing 707 in an area controlled by Karen rebels, who have been waging a guerrilla war against the Burmese government for nearly 40 years. But those reports were discounted by officials today who said the exact crash site had not been found.
Search parties have targeted their efforts in trying to locate the crash site in an area 6 miles inside Burma near the Thai border village of Bong Thi, 100 miles northwest of Bangkok. The area is honeycombed with rebel land mines and booby traps and Thai officials have requested guerrilla assistance in reaching the possible crash site.
Identified in their forged passports as Shinichi Hachiya, 60, and Mayumi Hachiya, 28, the Asian couple was halted at the Bahrain Airport immigration counter Tuesday morning while trying to board a flight for Rome via Amman, Jordan, Japanese officials said.
Japanese investigators in Tokyo tracked down the real Shinichi Hachiya, 69, who told police he loaned his passport in October 1983 to a man called Akira Miyamoto. Hachiya, who said he had known Miyamoto for about 20 years, said his papers were returned about a month later.
Authorities said Miyamoto was implicated in a passport forgery case involving North Korean agents in 1985 and has been missing since then. The newspaper Mainichi Shimbun identified him as a Korean resident of Japan whose real name is Li Chol-u.
Police said the woman's identity is still unknown.
The KAL flight bound for Seoul originated Sunday in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and stopped briefly in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, to take on 11 passengers and drop off the couple caught Tuesday trying to slip out of Bahrain.
In Seoul, Assistant Foreign Minister Park Soo-kil said today the government wants to question the woman suspect, but noted that South Korea has no extradition treaty with the Persian Gulf nation.
'However, in case her involvement in the crash is positively proven, our government will make many-sided efforts to get her extradited,' Park said.
He said a report from the South Korean Consulate-General in Baghdad indicated the woman traveled to Baghdad from Vienna via Belgrade, Yugoslavia. She stayed in the Baghdad airport transit lounge before boarding the KAL jet with only a small carry-on bag for the trip to Abu Dhabi.
In Abu Dhabi, the couple was assisted by a KAL representative in getting on the next flight to Bahrain, where they arrived early Monday.
South Korean officials said Japanese authorities advised that the couple may belong to Chosoren, a Japan-based pro-North Korean group, but there was no immediate confirmation.
About 700,000 Koreans live in Japan and an estimated 300,000 of them are considered pro-North Korean. Most of them were brought forcibly to Japan as laborers during World War II and speak Japanese.
South Korean officials have said North Korean agents may have planted a bomb aboard the plane in what could be a campaign to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. But their theory could not be confirmed.