N. Korea Sentences U.S. Citizen to 15 Years Hard Labor
By Sangwon Yoon - May 2, 2013 5:29 AM ET
North Korea sentenced a U.S. citizen to 15 years hard labor for unidentified crimes committed after he entered the country last year, a verdict that may exacerbate tensions already running high over the regime’s nuclear program.
A North Korean flag hangs inside the interior of Pyongyang’s Supreme Court. U.S. citizen Pae Jun Ho was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for committing unidentified crimes after entering the country last year. Source: AP Photo
Pae Jun Ho, arrested while “committing hostile acts” against North Korea after he entered the border city of Rason as a tourist on Nov. 3, was tried April 30, the official Korean Central News Agency said.
The U.S. and South Korea have been in a standoff with Kim Jong Un’s regime since February, when it tested a nuclear weapon in defiance of United Nations sanctions and then threatened atomic strikes. The North may be using Pae’s verdict to press for talks and get concessions, said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies inSeoul.
“This is the strongest sentence North Korea has ordered for a U.S. detainee,” Yang said. “The regime issued an extremely strong verdict to get the attention of the international community.”
Pae, a Korean-American, is known in the U.S. as Kenneth Bae. The U.S. calls on the North to release him on humanitarian grounds, Andrew Young, an embassy spokesman, said by text message in Seoul.
The U.S. doesn’t have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea. Swedish diplomats in Pyongyang, who represent U.S. interests there, have met Pae, and the State Department is working with them to resolve the situation, Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said before today’s KCNA announcement.
The verdict comes after the North ratcheted up its rhetoric against the U.S. and South Korea following the February nuclear test. Last month, Kim’s regime said developing nuclear weapons is a top priority. Earlier, the North said it was in a “state of war” with South Korea and it cut a cross-border hotline. It also threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes in response to U.S.- South Korea military drills.
President Barack Obama’s administration rejected claims the North can launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, while warning that Kim’s inexperience increases the chances for miscalculation.
The North also shuttered an industrial park run jointly with the South. The North is refusing to allow seven South Koreans to leave the Gaeseong complex until a dispute over unpaid wages and bills is settled.
Past U.S. delegations have secured the freedom of detainees who were sentenced to years of prison or labor. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang in 2009 and won the release of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling after they were held for five months. They had been sentenced to 12 years of “reform through labor.”
Former President Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea in 2010 to win the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was sentenced to eight years of hard labor for illegal entry into the North viaChina.
A group led by Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor and United Nations ambassador, and Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt failed to secure Pae’s release when it visited Pyongyang in January.
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