North to try Korean-U.S. tour guide held in Nov.

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North to try Korean-U.S. tour guide held in Nov.

A Korean-American tour group leader detained in North Korea for the past six months will be put on trial in its Supreme Court for allegedly trying to overthrow the government.

Kenneth Bae, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea, arrived in the special economic zone of Rason in northeastern Korea in November with a group of tourists from Europe.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency said that Bae, referred to by his Korean name Pae Jun-ho, admitted during questioning to committing crimes that were “aimed to topple the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with hostility toward it” and said that the crimes were “proved by evidence.”

It said that Bae will soon “face judgment” in front of the North’s Supreme Court, though a specific trial date was not given.

The U.S. State Department said it is “aware of reports that a U.S. citizen will face trial in North Korea.” Officials from the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang visited Bae on Friday.

If convicted, Bae can be sentenced to years of hard labor or life imprisonment. Crimes against the state can also result in the death penalty.

American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in 2009 for trespassing and committing unspecified “hostile acts against the country” before former U.S. President Bill Clinton negotiated their release five months later.

In January 2010, Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of Aijalon Gomes, an American teacher who walked into North Korea from China, and they left the country together.

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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