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North Korea Says Detained US Journalists Well-Treated

The State Department said the United States has been told by North Korea that two American journalists it detained last week are being well-treated.

Officials here said the United States has been in contact with North Korea through its United Nations mission in New York and indirectly through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang which handles U.S. affairs there.

But they're providing only sparse information about the case, in the apparent hope the matter can be resolved through quiet diplomacy.

North Korea's official news agency said on Saturday that Americans Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for the San Francisco-based media outlet Current TV, were taken into custody March 17 along the China-North Korea border.

State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said the United States has been assured by North Korea that they are being well treated, and that U.S. officials "are aware" of reports they are being questioned for alleged espionage.

But he declined to address the merit of the spy allegations, saying U.S. officials feel that debating the matter in public is not helpful.

"As I've said, we're trying to work this issue diplomatically. For me to stand up here and talk about it in detail is not helpful. So I'm just going to limit my comments to what I've given you today. I mentioned to you yesterday that I think the less said from here the better in terms of trying to win the release of these two Americans," said Wood.

A senior official here said the State Department has been in touch with the families of the two women and is trying to arrange consular access to them by Swedish diplomats.

He said it is a matter of concern that North Korea has not disclosed where they are being held, and said the United States is keeping the matter low-key because it is dealing with what he termed a "very unpredictable actor" in the North Koreans.

On another issue, spokesman Wood described as unhelpful and counter productive a threat by North Korea to scuttle the six-party talks on its nuclear program if Pyongyang is hit with U.N. sanctions for launching a long-range missile.

North Korea has said it will launch an experimental satellite during the first week in April, action U.S officials said would just be a guise for a ballistic missile test banned by a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution.

The United States has urged North Korea to forgo the launch and return to the Chinese sponsored negotiations, which spokesman Wood said have made progress and provide a viable framework for achieving peace on the Korean peninsula.