Join Date: 09 2001
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North Korea jails U.S. journalists
By Jack Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, facing U.N. sanctions for last month's nuclear test, on Monday raised the stakes in its growing confrontation with Washington by sentencing two U.S. journalists to 12 years hard labor for "grave crimes."
The sentence follows U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's warning on Sunday the United States was considering putting the reclusive North back on its list of states that sponsor terrorism, which would further isolate the country.
The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, of U.S. media outlet Current TV, were arrested in March working on a story near the border between North Korea and China. The trial for the two, working for the company co-founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, opened on Thursday.
"The trial confirmed the grave crime they committed against the Korean nation and their illegal border crossing as they had already been indicted and sentenced each of them to 12 years of reform through labor," the official KCNA news agency said in a brief dispatch.
The sentence is certain to deepen the chill in relations with the United States which has been trying for years, with scant success, to convince Stalinist North Korea to give up its ambition of becoming a nuclear weapons power.
U.S. President Barack Obama is "deeply concerned" by the news, the White House said.
"We are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release," White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement.
"We are deeply concerned by the reported sentencing of the two American citizen journalists by North Korean authorities and we are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release," the White House said in a statement.
The State Department urged North Korea to release the two journalists.
"(North Korea) is using the sentence as bait to squeeze concessions out of the U.S. amid heightened tension," said Lee Dong-bok, a senior associate with the CSIS think tank in Seoul and an expert on the North's negotiating tactics.
South Korea's main stock index dipped as the news of the sentencing weighed on sentiment. "Although this (fall) will probably be short-lived, there still are concerns the United States may take stringent measures in response," said Lee Yun, a market analyst at Woori Investment & Securities.
Analysts say it would take a military clash at sea or on the border to have a major impact on global markets.
U.S. President Barack Obama at the weekend called the North's latest nuclear test, which was followed by a series of missile tests, "extraordinarily provocative" and said that this time there would be no appeasement by Washington.
Communist North Korea kept up its rhetoric which is increasingly unnerving a region that accounts for a sixth of the world's economy.