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Pyongyang detains 2 U.S. journalists and their guide

Team was filming on the Chinese side of Tumen River  PLAY AUDIO

Mar 20,2009
Two American journalists and their Chinese guide have been detained by North Korea near the China?North Korea border, various sources said yesterday.

The two American journalists are Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who work for the San Francisco-based Current TV. Sources said Ling is Chinese-American and Lee is Korean-American, while the guide is ethnic Korean.

The two journalists were detained Tuesday after ignoring orders by border guards to stop shooting video of the North Korean side, according to sources and earlier media reports. The journalists were on the Chinese side of the border and were captured near the Tumen River, which flows between China and North Korea on the northeastern tip of the peninsula. The specific location of their capture was not immediately available.

Reverend Chun Ki-won, a Christian pastor and human rights activist, helped arrange the journalists’ trip. In a phone interview from New York, Chun said he met with the Americans in Seoul on March 11 and they departed for China on March 13.

“They told me that they wanted to report on the plight of North Korean refugees in China,” Chun said. “They’d come to talk to me, knowing I could be of help to them.”

Chun said he last spoke to the American journalists around 6 a.m. Tuesday, when they were in Yanji, northeastern China. He said he believes a third member of the reporting team, Mitch Koss, is under the protection of the U.S. Embassy in China.

Fred Lash, a U.S. State Department press officer, expressed “concern” to Pyongyang over the Americans, according to AFP. “We are working with Chinese government officials in that particular area to ascertain the whereabouts and welfare of the Americans in question,” Lash was quoted as saying.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry and the Unification Ministry said yesterday they would not comment on the issue, since it is between the United States and North Korea. A high-ranking government official in Seoul suggested the likely scenarios are that either the North could release the Americans with a mere warning, or the North would wait until the United States sends a delegation to negotiate their release. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on record about this matter.

In 1996, Bill Richardson, currently New Mexico governor, helped American Evan Hunziker come home after three months. Hunziker was accused of spying after swimming in the Yalu River, which also borders North Korea and China. Richardson said Hunziker had been under the influence of alcohol. Two years earlier, Richardson negotiated the release of a U.S. military pilot who had strayed into North Korea and had to make a forced landing there.

The current incident comes only weeks before North Korea is scheduled to launch a communications satellite. Washington, along with Seoul and Tokyo, believes the satellite launch is a disguised ballistic missile test. All three say the launch will be in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution, which says the North “shall suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme.”

North Korea?U.S. relations are going through a delicate time. On Wednesday, Korean time, the U.S. State Department announced that the North had rejected American food aid and had asked aid workers to leave the country by the end of March, two months ahead of schedule.

The annual, joint South Korea?U.S. military drills, which the North considers a war provocation, are to end today. To protest the drills, the North severed the military communication channel with the South and restricted cross-border trips for the past 10 days.


By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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