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N. Korea Remains Silent on Trial of US Journalists


Much of the world has been waiting with anticipation for the result of North Korea's trial of two American women. The scheduled time of the trial has long passed, but North Korea is remaining silent.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency issued a one-line bulletin around mid-day local time, announcing it would start the trial of two American women within hours.

But that was the last thing heard out of Pyongyang. The scheduled 3:00 p.m. local start time of the trial came and went, and by late in the evening the North was still maintaining silence about the outcome.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, both video journalists with San Francisco-based Current TV, were detained by North Korean authorities in March. Pyongyang says they illegally crossed the North Korean border from China and engaged in what it calls "hostile acts."

Their employer says they were gathering footage for a documentary about North Korean human-rights abuses.

Professor Yang Moo-jin, of Seoul's Kyungnam University Graduate School of North Korean Studies, says he feels confident the trial took place as scheduled.

He says North Korea acted with unusual transparency by disclosing the timing of the trial well in advance. He says he is not sure why the North did not follow up with some kind of announcement about the outcome.

Like most analysts, Yang believes the conviction of the two women is a near certainty, because the trial is merely a formality in a chain of political decisions which have already been made.

Once they are convicted, says Yang, a U.S. special envoy will probably be required to go to North Korea in order to negotiate a political pardon. The envoy would then be allowed to return with the two women.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a founder of Current TV, has been frequently mentioned as a possible envoy for that mission.

Professor Brian Myers of South Korea's Dongseo University specializes in North Korean propaganda. He says the two women have value for the North Korean government as a bargaining chip in diplomacy with the United States. But he says Pyongyang is unlikely to use them internally for propaganda purposes.

"The regime likes to praise itself for protecting the nation's borders," Myers said. "It is one of the things that Kim Jong Il is always depicted as doing. And I do not think that rhetoric can be easily reconciled with the fact that two American women managed to make it across the North Korean border at all."

Myers believes the trial will probably receive only a cursory mention in North Korea's internal media.

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