American journalists to stand trial in NK

March 30, 2009 6:36:47 PM PDT
The two American journalists detained in North Korea will now stand trial. The reporters for San Francisco-based Current TV have been held for about 10-days. They were working a story along the China-North Korea border when they were arrested.

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There's no indication when the trial will be held and on Monday, the state-run news agency announced preparations are under way for indictments. North Korea says the journalists' "hostile acts" have been confirmed by evidence and their statements.

The Korean Central News agency says Laura Ling and Euna Lee will be charged with illegal entry and hostile acts. The San Francisco-based Current TV journalists were detained by North Korean border guards March 17th while working on a story at the China-North Korea border.

U.C. Berkeley professor T.J. Pempel has been writing about Asian politics for 30 years. He's been part of diplomatic missions and was in North Korea a month ago.

"I'm assuming there are a lot of quite, behind the scenes negotiations going on right now," said Pempel.

Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, and relies on the Swedish embassy to represent the U.S.

The detention and planned trial come just days before North Korea's planned satellite launch. North Korea says it's part of its communications program, but the U.S. fears it's a cover for testing long-range missile technology. Either way, Pempel says the launch is in violation of a United Nations' sanction against a missile launch of any kind.

Hoover Institution senior fellow Thomas Henriksen is an expert on U.S. relations with rogue states like North Korea. He says the journalists will be found guilty and the U.S. will have to grant some concessions to win their release.

"We'll either have to apologize on their behalf, sign a statement that we recognize that these young women were reporters were in fact spying," says Henrisksen.

Pempel says Kim Jong Il's stroke last year has also created a political environment where North Korea is taking a harder line.

"Unfortunately the missile launch and the two journalists are just feeding that effort by the North to show that they're tough and they can't be pushed around and that its' a force to be reckoned with," said Pempel.

The state department confirmed that a Swedish diplomat visited Ling and Lee individually over the weekend, but details are not being released.

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