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> N. Korea Sentences Us Reporters To 12 Years Labor
Fremen Bryan
post Jun 8 2009, 06:12 AM
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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_nkorea_journalists_held

N. Korea sentences US reporters to 12 years labor
By VIJAY JOSHI, Associated Press Writer Vijay Joshi, Associated Press Writer – 51 mins ago SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea convicted two American journalists and sentenced them Monday to 12 years of hard labor for crossing into its territory, intensifying the reclusive nation's confrontation with the United States.

The Obama administration said it would pursue "all possible channels" to win the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV media venture.

There are fears Pyongyang is using the women as bargaining chips as the U.N. debates a new resolution to punish the country for its defiant May 25 atomic test and as North Korea seeks to draw Washington into direct negotiations.

Washington's former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson called the sentencing part of "a high-stakes poker game" being played by North Korea. He said on NBC's Today show that he thinks negotiations for their "humanitarian release" can begin now that the legal process has been completed. Other South Korean analysts also said they expect the two to be freed following negotiations.

The journalists were found guilty of committing a "grave crime" against North Korea and of illegally entering the country, North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

North Korean guards arrested Ling and Lee near the China-North Korean border on March 17. The two were reporting about the trafficking of North Korean women at the time of their arrest, and it's unclear if they strayed into the North or were grabbed by aggressive border guards who crossed into China. A cameraman and their local guide escaped.

The Central Court in Pyongyang sentenced each to 12 years of "reform through labor" in a North Korean prison after a five-day trial, KCNA said in a terse, two-line report that provided no further details. A Korean-language version said they were convicted of "hostility toward the Korean people."

The ruling — nearly three months after their arrest on March 17 — comes amid soaring tensions fueled by North Korea's nuclear test last month and signs it is preparing for a long-range missile test. On Monday, North Korea warned fishing boats to stay away from the east coast, Japan's coast guard said, raising concerns more missile tests are being planned.

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama used strong language on North Korea's nuclear stance and said his administration did not intend "to continue a policy of rewarding provocation."

Verdicts issued by North Korea's highest court are final and cannot be appealed, said Choi Eun-suk, a North Korean law expert at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at South Korea's Kyungnam University. He said North Korea's penal code calls for transferring them to prison within 10 days.

The United States, which does not have diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, was "deeply concerned" about the reported verdict, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington. He said officials would "engage in all possible channels" to win the reporters' release.

At the White House on Monday, deputy spokesman William Burton said in a statement: "The president is deeply concerned by the reported sentencing of the two American citizen journalists by North Korean authorities, and we are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release."

The families of Lee, 36, and Ling, 32 had no immediate comment, spokeswoman Alanna Zahn said from New York. Gore also had no comment, spokeswoman Kalee Kreider said.

Lee is Korean-American and speaks Korean, but it is not clear how well. She lives in California with her husband and 4-year-old daughter Hannah. Ling is Chinese-American and a native of California. Her sister is National Geographic "Explorer" TV journalist Lisa Ling.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, said the 12-year sentence — the maximum allowed under North Korean law — may have been a reaction to recent "hard-line" threats by the U.S., including possible sanctions and putting North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But he predicted the journalists' eventual release following diplomatic negotiations.

"The sentence doesn't mean much because the issue will be resolved diplomatically in the end," Kim said.

Just weeks after arresting the women, North Korea launched a multistage rocket over Japan in defiance of international calls for restraint. The U.S. and others called the launch a cover for a long-range missile test, and the U.N. Security Council condemned the move.

The U.N. censure enraged Pyongyang. North Korea abandoned nuclear disarmament talks, threatened to restart its atomic program and vowed to conduct nuclear and long-range missile tests if the Security Council failed to apologize.

The North followed through with its threat and staged its second-ever underground nuclear test. U.S. officials say the North appears to be preparing another long-range missile test at a west coast launch pad.

Some analysts called the arrest of the Americans a timely "bonanza" for Pyongyang as the impoverished regime prepares to negotiate for aid and other concessions to resolve the tense standoff over its nuclear defiance.

"North Korea refused to release them ahead of a court ruling because such a move could be seen as capitulating to the United States," said Hajime Izumi, professor of international relations and an expert on North Korea at the University of Shizuoka in Japan.

But now, "North Korea may release them on humanitarian grounds and demand the U.S. provide humanitarian aid in return," he said. "North Korea will certainly use the reporters as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the United States."

Their release could come through a post-negotiation political pardon, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.

The sentence is "a terrible shock for all those who have repeatedly insisted on their innocence," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement, noting that North Korea is ranked as Asia's worst country for press freedom.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists urged South Korea, Japan, Russia and the U.S., the five countries involved in the stalled disarmament talks with North Korea, to work for the journalists' release."

The sentencing comes a month after Iran released Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who had been sentenced to eight years in prison for on a charge of spying for the United States. An appeals court reduced that to a two-year suspended sentence and she was freed May 11.

Little is known about prison conditions in North Korea. But Rev. Chun Ki-won, a South Korean missionary who helped arrange the journalists' trip to China, said inmates in North Korean labor camps frequently face beatings and other inhumane treatment while being forced to engage in harsh labor such as logging and construction work.

Chun, however, predicted the North would send the journalists to a labor camp.

___

Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang and William Foreman in Seoul, and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.



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Fremen Bryan
post Aug 5 2009, 11:59 AM
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Clinton, U.S. journalists leave North Korea after pardon

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090804/pl_nm/us_korea_north SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said on Wednesday it had pardoned two jailed American journalists after former U.S. President Bill Clinton met the reclusive state's leader Kim Jong-il, a move some analysts said could pave the way to direct nuclear disarmament talks.

Clinton's spokesman said the former president had left Pyongyang with the two reporters and they were flying to Los Angeles.

"President Clinton has safely left North Korea with Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They are enroute to Los Angeles where Laura and Euna will be reunited with their families," spokesman Matt McKenna said in a statement.

Washington, which is keen not to be seen to reward the isolated North for its recent nuclear and missile tests, insisted the meeting was a private one by Clinton.

But Pyongyang, desperate for the recognition that direct talks with the Obama administration would bring, made clear it saw the visit in a much more official light.

The North's KCNA news agency said Clinton and Kim "had candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the DPRK (North Korea) and the U.S. in a sincere atmosphere and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of (the two journalists)."

The two reporters, Euna Lee, 36, and Laura Ling, 32, who work for Current TV, an American TV outlet co-founded by Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, had been sentenced to 12 years hard labor for illegally entering the North and committing "grave crimes."

"The families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee are overjoyed by the news of their pardon," said a statement posted on a website created to support the two journalists.

But there were immediate questions about what Clinton had discussed with Kim beyond the fate of the two reporters.

COURTEOUS

KCNA insisted Clinton had "courteously conveyed a verbal message of U.S. President Barack Obama expressing profound thanks for this and reflecting views on ways of improving the relations between the two countries."

The White House denied any message from Obama.

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama, told MSNBC television that Clinton was on a "private humanitarian mission" and that "I don't think it's related to other issues."

But South Korea's Chosun Ilbo daily said in an editorial: "Regardless of what the U.S. administration says, the Clinton and Kim meeting signals the start of direct bargaining ... It's a matter of time when U.S.-North bilateral talks begin."

Clinton, husband of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was the highest-level American to visit the reclusive communist state since his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, went there in 2000.

North Korean sought to put its stamp on the visit.

"Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK after illegally intruding into it. Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest request of the U.S. government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view," KCNA said.

It said the visit would "contribute to deepening the understanding between the DPRKNorth Korea), and the U.S. and building the bilateral confidence." (

BENEFITS OR PITFALLS?

Clinton's trouble-shooting mission coincided with intense speculation over succession in Asia's only communist dynasty. Several reports suggest an increasingly frail-looking Kim, 67, has settled on his third son to take over.

It also comes as relations between Washington and Pyongyang have turned even worse after the North's nuclear test on May 25, which was met by U.S.-led international sanctions.

The impoverished North has turned its back on negotiations over its nuclear arsenal with regional powers, including the United States and China.

Some analysts warned that Clinton's visit was rewarding North Korea's for its provocative behavior and that it may be hoping that by pardoning the two journalists it can wring concessions from Washington.

It was the second time a former U.S. president had traveled to North Korea to try to defuse a crisis. Former President Jimmy Carter flew there in 1994 when tensions were running high, again over the North's nuclear weapons program.

He helped broker a deal in which Pyongyang suspended construction of a 50-megawatt plutonium reactor in exchange for heating oil and other energy aid.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul, David Morgan and Ross Colvin in Washington, Editing by Dean Yates)


Freed journalists home in US after NKorea pardon

By ROBERT JABLON, Associated Press Writer Robert Jablon, Associated Press Writer – 2 mins ago

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090805/ap_on_...ournalists_held

BURBANK, Calif. – Two American journalists jubilantly reunited with family and friends early Wednesday upon returning to the United States with former President Bill Clinton, whose diplomatic trip to North Korea secured their release nearly five months after their arrests.

The jet carrying Euna Lee and Laura Ling, reporters for Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV, and Clinton arrived at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport at dawn. Clinton met with communist leader Kim Jong Il on Tuesday to secure the women's release.

Lee emerged from the jetliner first and was greeted by husband Michael Saldate and 4-year-old daughter Hana. She hugged the girl and picked her up before all three embraced in a crushing hug as TV networks beamed the poignant moment live.

Ling embraced her husband, Iain Clayton, as teary family members crowded around.

"The past 140 days have been the most difficult, heart-wrenching days of our lives," Ling said, her voice cracking.

Thirty hours ago, Ling said, "We feared that any moment we could be sent to a hard labor camp."

Then, she said, they were taken to another location.

"When we walked through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton," she said to applause. "We were shocked but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end, and now we stand here, home and free."

Clinton came down the stairs to applause. He hugged Gore, then chatted with family members.

Gore described the families of the two women as "unbelievable, passionate, involved, committed, innovative."

"Hana's been a great girl while you were gone," he told Lee. "And Laura, your mom's been making your special soup for two days now."

He also thanked the State Department for its help in the release.

"It speaks well of our country that when two American citizens are in harm's way, that so many people will just put things aside and just go to work to make sure that this has had a happy ending," he said.

After 140 days in custody, the reporters were granted a pardon by North Korea on Tuesday, following rare talks between Clinton and the reclusive North Korea leader. They had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally.

The women were kept in enforced isolation and fed poor-quality food, Ling's sister said.

"They were kept apart most of the time. ... On the day of their trial, they hugged each other and that was it," Lisa Ling told reporters outside her sister's home in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.

"She's really, really anxious to have fresh fruit and fresh food. She said there were rocks in her rice. Obviously, it's a country that has a lot of economic problems.

"The little bit that she was able to recount of her experience of the last 4 1/2 months has been challenging for us to hear," Lisa Ling said. "She's my little sister but she's a very, very strong girl and a determined person."

Ling's husband told reporters that his wife had spent more time in North Korea than in their North Hollywood home, which they bought in November shortly before she went overseas.

"It was very lonely," Clayton said. "One of the hardest things was obviously coming home every night, and there were reminders of her in the house."

The women, dressed in short-sleeved shirts and jeans, appeared healthy as they prepared to leave North Korea. They shook hands with Clinton before getting into the jet, exclusive APTN footage from Pyongyang showed. Clinton waved, put his hand over his heart and then saluted.

North Korean state TV showed Clinton's departure, and North Korean officials waving to the plane, but did not show images of the two journalists.

Speaking on the White House lawn just before leaving on a trip to Indiana, President Barack Obama said the administration is "extraordinarily relieved" that the pair has been set free. He said he had spoken to their families once the two were safely aboard a plane out of Pyongyang.

"The reunion we've all seen on television, I think, is a source of happiness not only for the families but also for the entire country," Obama said.

Ling was later seen entering her mother's home in the Los Angeles suburb of Toluca Lake, while Lee was spotted going into her home in Los Angeles.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Clinton will fill in Obama's national security team on what transpired during his trip as a private envoy to Pyongyang.

He reiterated that Clinton did not carry a message from Obama to Kim.

"If there wasn't a message, there certainly couldn't have been an apology," Gibbs said.

When asked whether the release of the journalists could lead to a breakthrough on other issues such as North Korea's nuclear program, Gibbs said that will depend on the actions of the communist regime.

"The people that walked away from the obligations they agreed to were not anybody involved on our side," Gibbs said. "It was the North Koreans."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hailed the journalists' release.

"I spoke to my husband on the airplane and everything went well," she told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya. "They are extremely excited to be reunited soon when they touch down in California. It was just a good day to be able to see this happen."

Ling, a 32-year-old California native, is the younger sister of Lisa Ling, a correspondent for CNN as well as "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "National Geographic Explorer." Lee, 36, is a South Korean-born U.S. citizen.

They were arrested near the North Korean-Chinese border in March while on a reporting trip for Current TV.

The release also amounted to a successful diplomatic foray for the former president, who traveled as an unofficial envoy, with approval and coordination from the administration. He was uniquely positioned for it as the only recent president who had considered visiting North Korea while in office, and one who had sent his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.

His landmark visit to Pyongyang to free the Americans was a coup that came at a time of heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear program.

The meeting also appeared aimed at dispelling persistent questions about the health of the authoritarian North Korean leader, who was said to be suffering from chronic diabetes and heart disease before the reported stroke. The meeting was Kim's first with a prominent Western figure since the reported stroke.

Pardoning Ling and Lee and having Clinton serving as their emissary served both North Korea's need to continue maintaining that the two women had committed a crime and the Obama administration's desire not to expend diplomatic capital winning their freedom, said Daniel Sneider, associate director of research at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.

"Nobody wanted this to be a distraction from the more substantially difficult issues we have with North Korea," he said. "There was a desire by the administration to resolve this quietly and from the very beginning they didn't allow it to become a huge public issue."

Discussions about normalizing ties with North Korea went dead when George W. Bush took office in 2001 with a hard-line policy on Pyongyang. The Obama administration has expressed a willingness to hold bilateral talks — but only within the framework of the six-nation disarmament talks in place since 2003.

North Korea announced earlier this year it was abandoning the talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, China and the U.S. The regime also launched a long-range rocket, conducted a nuclear test, test-fired a barrage of ballistic missiles and restarted its atomic program in defiance of international criticism and the U.N. Security Council.

___

Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee in Seoul, South Korea, Anne Gearan, Julie Pace and Steven R. Hurst in Washington, Lisa Leff in San Francisco, Tomoko A. Hosaka in Misawa, Japan, AP researcher Jasmine Zhao in Beijing and Matthew Lee in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.



This post has been edited by Fremen Bryan: Aug 5 2009, 12:06 PM


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