North Korea to put American journalists on trial

The North may see the arrest of Laura Ling and Euna Lee as a powerful tool in negotiations with the US.

SEOULNorth Korea said Friday investigators have all the evidence needed to try two American journalists “on the basis of the confirmed crimes committed by them.”

That word came via Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency more than five weeks after North Korean soldiers grabbed Laura Ling and Euna Lee of Current TV network as they filmed along the North’s Tumen River border with China. The agency said a “competent organ,” meaning probably the pervasive North Korean security network, had “concluded the investigation” and had the documents to bring them to trial.

The inference was that the two had acknowledged “hostile acts,” as claimed by North Korea after they were picked up and removed to a “state guest house” near Pyongyang.

North Korean authorities are presumed to be considering espionage charges against Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee as the North begins to make good on its vow to restart its nuclear-weapons program. The journalists were reporting on defectors’ tales of human rights abuses – a taboo topic as far as North Korean officials are concerned.

Eager for recognition as the world’s ninth nuclear power, North Korea is believed to see the arrests as a powerful tool in eventual negotiations with the US.

In response to condemnation by the UN Security Council on April 14 of its test of a long-range missile on April 5, North Korea said it would “never” return to six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons. Still, analysts believe the North may well be open to dialogue with the US alone.

As Yang Moo -jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told South Korea’s Yonhap News, North Korea “can decide whether to grant them political pardon depending on the developments in its relations with the US."

North Korea announced what amounted to the indictment of Ling and Lee while Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was wrapping up two days of talks with North Korean leaders in Pyongyang before flying to Seoul. Mr. Lavrov was reported to have urged North Korea to return to six-nation talks, but the Korean Central News Agency said only that he “paid attention” to the North’s view of “no need” for such talks.

Lavrov reported on his conversations in Pyongyang when he called Friday evening on South Korea’s foreign minister, Yu Myung-hwan . He will visit South Korean President Lee Myung Bak on Saturday.

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