VOLUME 28 NO. 14 | MARCH 28 - APRIL 3, 2009

Did journalists illegally enter North Korea?

Last updated 3-26-09 at 8:00 a.m.

Detained journalists Euna Lee (left) and Laura Ling

By Hyung-jin Kim

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Two American journalists detained by North Korean soldiers are believed to have been sent to Pyongyang for questioning, a news report said Sunday, March 22.

North Korea said Saturday, March 21 it was investigating two Americans it detained for “illegally intruding” into its territory after crossing the border from China.

A brief dispatch from the North’s official Korean Central News Agency gave no other details, but it was apparent confirmation of reported arrests of two female U.S. journalists reporting on North Korean refugees in the border area.

South Korean media and a South Korean missionary identified the two detained Americans as Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore’s San Francisco-based media outlet Current TV.

A U.S. official said Saturday that the U.S. has been in touch with North Korean representatives about the journalists and is waiting for a reply. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the issue, said the U.S. doesn’t know where the North is holding them.

U.S. officials expressed concern to North Korean officials about the reported detentions and said they were working with the Chinese government to ascertain the whereabouts of the Americans.

“When you have two American citizens who are being held against their will, we want to find out all the facts and gain their release,” State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said on March 19 in Washington, D.C.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Sunday, in a report from the Chinese city of Yanji, that it is highly likely that they were sent to Pyongyang to be investigated for their alleged border intrusion.

“Considering the significance of the case, there is a high possibility that the two U.S. journalists have been sent to Pyongyang and are undergoing a direct investigation” by the North’s spy agency and military, Yonhap quoted a source in China it described as privy to North Korean affairs.

Yonhap quoted other sources in China as saying the North’s confirmation of the arrest appeared to demonstrate that Pyongyang’s intelligence and military headquarters are directly interrogating the journalists.

Yonhap also said the North is expected to “politically” use the U.S. journalists in its negotiations with the U.S. government.

Ties between Washington and Pyongyang already have been strained over the North’s refusal to fully verify its past nuclear activities and its announced plan to launch a satellite into orbit in early April. U.S. and other regional powers argue the launch is a cover for a long-range missile test.

The two journalists, along with a male cameraman and a guide, were headed to Yanji, across the border from North Korea’s far northeastern corner, where they planned to interview women forced by human traffickers to strip for online customers and meet with children of defectors, according to the Rev. Chun Ki-won of the Seoul-based Durihana Mission, a Christian group that helps defectors.

Ki-won said he arranged interviews with North Korean defectors but warned the journalists to stay away from border areas.

“I told them very clearly not to go to the border because it’s dangerous,” he told The Associated Press by telephone from Washington.

The journalists planned to travel to Dandong, said Chun, who helped the journalists organize the trip.

At the Yalu River near Dandong on Sunday, rifle-carrying North Korean soldiers across the river patrolled its bank. A group of men painted fishing boats on the North Korean side during low tide.

Many North Korean children who grow up on the run in China live in legal limbo, unable to attend school, according to a 2008 Human Rights Watch report.

The North Korean–Chinese border is long, porous, and not well demarcated, and thus is a common route for escape from the North.

A growing number of North Koreans have sneaked into China to escape political repression and chronic food shortages and to seek asylum, mostly in South Korea, according to North Korean defectors in South Korea and activists. (end)

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Jean H. Lee and AP photographer Andy Wong in Dandong, China, contributed to this report.


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