NKorea: US journalists plotted 'smear campaign'

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - One video recorder, six tapes, a
digital camera and a stone. North Korea laid out its evidence
Tuesday against two American journalists sentenced to hard labor
for entering the country illegally.

The country's official news agency reported that the
journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, documented their journey into
communist North Korea, even pocketing a stone to commemorate the
illicit trip across the frozen Tumen River from China.

"We've just entered a North Korean courtyard without
permission," the Korean translation of their videotape narration
said, according to Korean Central News Agency.

Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, who work for former Vice President Al
Gore's California-based Current TV media group, were sentenced last
Monday to 12 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison for
illegal entry and "hostile acts."

Before Tuesday's report, little was known publicly about the
journalists' arrest March 17.

The timing of its release - just hours before President Barack
Obama met with South Korea's leader Lee Myung-bak and days after
the U.N. Security Council issued new sanctions against North Korea
for a May nuclear test - raised fears the women were being used as
political pawns.

North Korea wants to remind the U.S. that the women remain in
Pyongyang's hands, said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's
Dongguk University.

"The North is sending a message ahead of the summit: 'Don't
take your eyes off this. This is a negotiating card we have,"' Kim
said.

KCNA said it released the report to "let the world know crimes
committed by Americans at a time when an unprecedented
confrontation with the United States has been created on the Korean
peninsula."

"The accused admitted that what they did were criminal acts,
prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle the
socialist system of the DPRK by faking up moving images aimed at
falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and
calumnies at it," the agency said. The DPRK stands for the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Brent Marcus, a spokesman for Current TV, said the company had
no comment on the developments. A spokesman for Gore also declined
comment.

KCNA warned Washington that North Korea was watching its next
moves closely.

"We are following with a high degree of vigilance the attitude
of the U.S. which spawned the criminal act" against North Korea,
the report said.

North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the 1950-53
Korean War. Decades later, the two Koreas technically remain at
war. Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations.

Analysts say normalizing ties with the U.S., which keeps 28,500
troops in South Korea, is a key goal of North Korean leader Kim
Jong Il, who is believed to be paving the way to tap his youngest
son to be his successor.

Lee Jung-hoon of Yonsei University said North Korea's main
objective is to ensure the survival of the regime, and gaining an
assurance that the U.S. won't attack is crucial.

"North Korea's intention is to use these imprisoned American
journalists as bargaining leverage in dealing with the United
States," he said.

Ling and Lee fell into North Korean hands at a time of rising
concerns about the country's nuclear and missile programs. Weeks
earlier, North Korea had announced its intention to send a
satellite into space - a launch Washington called a cover for
testing a long-range missile designed to strike the U.S.

North Korea went ahead with the rocket launch in early April,
and in an increasingly brazen show of defiance conducted a nuclear
test on May 25. It then fired off a series of short-range missiles
in the days before the journalists' trial.

TV journalist Lisa Ling of National Geographic "Explorer," the
jailed reporter's sister, has said the women had no intention of
crossing into North Korea when they set out to do a story about
North Korean defectors living in China. She has pleaded for their
release on humanitarian grounds. There was no immediate response
from the families Tuesday.

The Committee to Protect Journalists criticized North Korea for
a lack of transparency in the case and said the report did not
mitigate concerns about the reporters' well being.

Meanwhile, KCNA described in its print report what it called
proof that the reporters sneaked into the country to carry out a
"smear campaign," including their confessions, the video
equipment and photos.

The agency also accused the Current TV team of lying on Chinese
visa applications, identifying themselves as computer specialists
on vacation, KCNA said. North Korea rarely allows foreign
journalists into the country.

In this case, the agency reported, they walked over the frozen
river and up the banks to Kangan-ri in North Korea's North Hamgyong
Province at dawn, videotaping their arrival. Lee and Ling were
arrested, while Current TV executive producer Mitch Koss and a
Korean-Chinese guide fled, KCNA said.

The women went on trial June 4 on charges of entering the
country illegally and engaging in "hostile acts."

The KCNA report said Lee, a Korean American, and Ling, a Chinese
American, were allowed interpreters. Ling was represented by a
defense lawyer but Lee - referred to by her Korean name, Lee
Seung-un - voluntarily gave up the right to legal defense, it said.

Last Monday, Lee and Ling were sentenced in Pyongyang's top
court to 12 years of hard labor.

"The criminals admitted and accepted the judgment," KCNA said.


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