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Appears more like hostage taking than spies

US journos face trial in North Korea

44 mins ago
ITN

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Two US journalists who were arrested in North Korea in March are set to go on trial in the hermit state on June 4. Skip related content
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US journos face trial in North Korea

The move ratchets up tensions with Washington after the communist state's rocket launch and threat to conduct a nuclear test.

Analysts said North Korea sees the two reporters as bargaining chips to try to win concessions out of US President Barack Obama' government, which wants Pyongyang to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling, of US media company Current TV, were arrested along the North Korea-China border.

They were accused of illegally entering North Korea with "hostile" intent and Pyongyang has said they face criminal charges.

"The Central Court of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) decided to try the American journalists on June 4 according to the indictment of the competent organ," the states's official KCNA news agency said.

Washington has said it is in touch with the North through various channels to secure the release of the journalists.

North Korea has pulled out of talks with five regional powers aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions and said it is useless to talk to the Obama government, which it accuses of continuing a hostile policy to topple Pyongyang's leaders.

Analysts said the destitute North faces a sharp rebuke from the US if it keeps the pair in detention but it may be willing to risk further isolation if it feels it can gain bargaining leverage.

"The North now has higher expectation of the US showing some sort of response, such as a visit of a high-level envoy to Pyongyang," said professor Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on North Korea.

The North, which conducted its first and only nuclear test in October 2006, rattled the region with an April 5 rocket launch condemned as a disguised missile test, prompting tighter UN sanctions.

An angry Pyongyang responded by dropping out of the nuclear talks, saying it would restart its plant that makes bomb-grade plutonium and threatening a fresh nuclear test unless the UN Security Council apologised.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this week: "I think that North Korea has effectively isolated itself internationally, even greater than was the case before, by some of this rhetoric."

Earlier this week, Iran, an ally of North Korea, released US-born journalist Roxana Saberi after an Iranian appeal court cut her jail sentence for spying in another case seen as a test for Mr Obama's team.

ERIC.

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