SEOUL, South Korea -- A confessed North Korean agent was sentenced to death Tuesday by a Seoul court for her role in the 1987 bombing of a Korean Air jetliner that disappeared over Southeast Asia with 115 people on board.
Kim Hyon-hui, 27, who said she carried out the bombing on orders from the son of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, wept as she was given the maximum sentence by the same three-judge panel that earlier convicted her of murder, destruction of an aircraft and violation of Korea's National Security Law.
But Kim is unlikely to face execution, official sources said. President Roh Tae-woo is expected eventually to grant her a special pardon because of her potential as a first-hand witness to North Korean atrocities, the sources said.
'Under the spirit of the Montreal Convention anyone who attacks a civil airliner must face the capital punishment,' Seoul District Criminal Court Presiding Judge Chung Sang-hak said in imposing the sentence.
Relatives of the 115 bombing victims watched silently as Kim left the room after the sentence was announced, concluding a trial that began March 7.
Kim was one of two North Koreans accused of placing a time bomb on KAL Flight 858, which vanished during a flightfrom Baghdad, Iraq, to Seoul on Nov. 28, 1987. No bodies were recovered, but debris believed to be from the Boeing 707 was found in the sea off Burma.
State-appointed defense lawyer Ahn Dong-sun said he will consult Kim on whether to appeal the verdict.
During her trial, Kim confessed to the bombing, which she said was carried out on the orders of Kim Chong-il, son of North Korean President Kim Il-sung, in an attempt to disrupt the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul.
'I deserve death without hearings,' she sobbed at the opening trial session. 'I will feel happy if my death can be a solace to the souls of the dead and their family members.'
Kim and an elderly male companion boarded Flight 858 in Baghdad shortly before midnight on Nov. 28, 1987, using forged Japanese passports.
When the airliner stopped over at Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, three hours later, the pair got off the plane, leaving behind a plastic bag containing liquid explosives and a timer-equipped portable radio.
Kim and her companion were later arrested in Bahrain while trying to catch a flight to Rome.
When stopped by police, the man killed himself by biting into a poison capsule hidden in a cigarette. Kim tried to follow suit, but a police officer snatched her poison-laced cigarette from her mouth before she was able to ingest a fatal dose of poison.
Kim was turned over to South Korean authorities on Dec. 15, 1987, and brought to Seoul. At a televised news conference after her arrival, she confessed to being a North Korean agent and said the KAL bombing was ordered by Kim Chong-il.
She said the North Korean leaders wanted to disrupt the Seoul Summer Olympicsscheduled to open the following September. The bombing was aimed at discouraging communist and Third World nations from taking part in the Olympiad, she said.
'I deserve to die a hundred times,' she said in the television news conference.
Prosecutor Lee Sang-hyong demanded the death penalty for Kim, saying years of brainwashing by the North Korean communists had reduced her to a 'human tool.'
'Though she repented, she cannot escape capital punishment for killing 115 people,' Lee said. 'Anyone who commits a terrorist attack on an aircraft must be punished under the Montreal Convention and other international air safety agreements.'
In her final statement, Kim said it was only after she came to Seoul that she realized how heinous her crime was.
'It was fortunate, I feel, that I could bring the whole facts to light through trial,' she said. 'I am at a loss how to repent for what I did. I endlessly curse Kim Il-sung and Kim Chong-il.'