North Korea interested in freeing US reporters

Author: By Hyung-Jin Kim, Associated Press

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained in March near the North Korean border
with China and sentenced last month to 12 years of hard labour for entering
the country illegally and for “hostile acts.” The two ? who work for former
US Vice President Al Gore’s California-based Current TV media group ? were
in the area to interview North Korean refugees.

University of Georgia political scientist Han S. Park said “responsible” North
Korean officials told him the two journalists have not been sent to a prison
labor camp and are being kept at a guesthouse in Pyongyang.

“I also think the fact that the sentence has not been carried out suggests
that North Koreans are seriously interested in releasing them if the
situation warrants,” Park said.

The North Koreans said the US government should offer “a remorseful
acknowledgment” of the reporters’ actions, according to Park. He said that
would help resolve the issue, though cautioned it still may not fully
guarantee their release.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that the
reporters have expressed “great remorse for this incident.” She called on
North Korea to grant the two amnesty and allow them to quickly return home
to their families. Clinton said “everyone is very sorry that it happened.”

The request for amnesty is a shift from previous US calls for the women to be
released on humanitarian grounds. It followed comments from Ling’s family
that she had acknowledged breaking North Korean law during a recent phone
call.

Park arrived in Seoul on Thursday via China after what he said was a five-day
trip to Pyongyang. He said he had an “extensive discussion” with the North
Korean officials but emphasized he was there in a private capacity and not
representing the US government.

Park, a frequent visitor to North Korea for academic purposes, said the
guesthouse where Ling and Lee are being held is a “decent, luxurious
accommodation.”

Officials have made sure the reporters “are treated with a great deal of
humanitarian concern” such as ensuring the delivery of medication sent from
their families and allowing them to make phone calls to the US, the scholar
said.

He said the North Korean officials think the journalists’ reporting
constituted “hostile acts” against North Korea because it would have cast
the country in a negative light.

A South Korean who helped organize the journalists’ reporting trip to China,
the Rev. Chun Ki-won, said in April that Ling and Lee traveled to the border
region with North Korea to interview women and children who had fled the
impoverished country.

Park’s comments came days after Laura Ling told her sister, journalist Lisa
Ling, during a 20-minute telephone call that a government pardon is their
only hope for freedom.

The journalists’ continued detention comes as the US is moving to enforce UN
sanctions as well as its own measures against the communist regime for its
May 25 nuclear test. The North also recently fired seven ballistic missiles
in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

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