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Families of American Journalists Ask North Korea for Compassion

The families of two American journalists sentenced by North Korea to 12 years' imprisonment in a labor camp have urged Pyongyang to show compassion and release them early.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained in March while working on a report near the Chinese-North Korean border for U.S. media outlet Current TV.

Pyongyang announced Monday that the two women had been found guilty of a "grave crime," without giving further explanation.

In a joint statement, the women's families expressed concern over their mental and physical well-being, adding that Ling suffers from an ulcer. The statement also says Lee's four-year-old daughter is showing signs of anguish over her mother's long absence.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on North Korea to release the two young women immediately on humanitarian grounds. The White House says North Korea will be among topics discussed next week when Mr. Obama meets with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Washington.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson told U.S. television interviewers Monday he is optimistic that diplomacy might convince North Korea to free the journalists. Richardson helped secure North Korea's release of a U.S. citizen and a captured U.S. helicopter pilot in the 1990s, when he was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

There has also been speculation that former Vice President Al Gore may get involved in helping secure the release of the two journalists and possibly serve as an envoy. Gore is a co-founder of Current TV.