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North Korea Says US Journalists Will Face Trial


Two pending cases in the North Korean justice system are spotlighting Pyongyang's hypersensitivity to outside influence. Pyongyang says it will put two U.S. journalists it is detaining on trial, and is "investigating" a South Korean who worked at a joint North-South industrial complex.

North Korea announced Tuesday it will put two American reporters on trial for what it calls "suspected hostile acts" that have been "confirmed by evidence and their statements."

Euna Lee and Laura Ling are two female reporters who work for San Francisco-based Current TV, founded in part by former Vice President Al Gore. They were apparently gathering video for a documentary on human rights abuses of North Korean refugees at North Korea's Chinese border earlier this month when Pyongyang says they illegally entered the country.

In an official commentary, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said the women will be allowed "consular contact" and will be treated according to "relevant international law." It is believed they are being detained in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The United States has no formal diplomatic presence in North Korea. However, Washington says it is using diplomatic channels to seek the reporters' release. Sweden is playing a role as a go-between on the issue.

Park Gi Gab is a professor in the college of law at Korea University in Seoul. He says several major legal issues are pertinent to the trial.

He says it must be established whether the women really crossed the Tumen river and entered into North Korean territory or not.

Human rights activists say North Korean officers have been known in the past to cross into China to take prisoners.

Park adds North Korea will be expected to remember it is a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several similar international agreements.

Although human rights groups say the North routinely violates those agreements with its own people, they may bring increased international pressure on Pyongyang to treat the reporters according to due legal process.

In a separate case, North Korea detained an employee of South Korea's Hyundai Asan corporation for a second day Tuesday. North Korean authorities are investigating him for what colleagues say were remarks critical of the North's government.

The man works at a joint industrial facility in the North Korean city of Kaesong, managed and funded by South Korea. Mr. Yoo Chang-Geun, Vice Chairman of the Kaesong Industrial Council, says alcohol may be a factor.

He says the person being detained is known to occasionally get drunk and make "mistakes."

Yoo says at the Kaesong complex, where South Korean workers sometimes spend months in isolation from their families, there is not much else to do but drink at the end of a work day. He says North and South Koreans occasionally share jokes and frank conversation, but generally avoid any talk about the North's political system.

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