TOKYO -- North Korea Saturday denied any responsibility in the suspected terrorist bombing of a Korean Air jetliner that disappeared over Burma, and denounced South Korea for conducting a 'smear campaign.'
The jet with 115 people aboard disappeared Nov. 29 and is believed to have crashed along the Thailand-Burma border. Separatist rebels in Burma say they have located the wreckage but are demanding a ransom before they will release it, according to a news report from Seoul.
Suspicion has focused on an Asian couple who got off the jet in the Middle East, one stop before it disappeared, and bit into cyanide-laced cigarettes during police questioning. A multi-national police effort has yet to identify the couple.
South Korean police sources said the man who died in the suicide attempt and the woman who is recovering in Bahrain possibly were North Korean agents.
The official (North) Korean Central News Agency said the accusation is 'silly and far-fetched.'
'The missing South Korean passenger plane has nothing to do with us,' the news agency said in a detailed, seven-page denial of responsibility.
'There is no elementary material evidence to clarify the cause of the incident ... and it is, therefore, impossible to confirm who is responsible,' the news agency said in a dispatch monitored in Tokyo.
South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan linked North Korea to the missing plane Wednesday and said the communist neighbor may have orchestrated the crash as part of a long-range scheme to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics.
The North Korean news agency said Chun's remarks were part of 'a wholesale anti-North Korea smear campaign.'
The news agency suggested instead that South Korea's ruling party leaders may be responsible for planting a bomb on the plane to create 'a new dramatic, shocking incident' to assure victory over opposition parties in the Dec. 16 presidential election.
The only link to the disappeared jet is a woman who with her male companion boarded KAL Flight 858, a Boeing 707, in Baghdad, Iraq and got off the plane at its first stop in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The airliner was en route to Bangkok and Seoul when it vanished.
From Abu Dhabi the couple flew to Bahrain where they were detained because of forged Japanese passports, which identified them as Mayumi Hachiya, 28, and Shinichi Hachiya, 71.
The woman survived the suicide attempt but has refused to talk about what role, if any, the two had in the plane's disappearance. Officials and diplomatic sources in Bahrain said Saturday the woman has been transferred to an island prison for interrogation.
Japanese and South Korean police have run extensive checks on the couples' fingerprints but have not identified them. Authorities in Seoul suspect they may have planted a bomb aboard the flight before getting off in Abu Dhabi.
In Seoul, a spokesman for President Chun said President Reagan had sent a letter of sympathy, saying 'I have noted with the deepest concern reports indicating the disaster may have been the work of terrorists. I have issued instructions that our government continue to work closely with you and other concerned governments to investigate the disaster.'