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American sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea

May 01, 2013|By Don Lee
  • Kenneth Bae as a freshmen student at the University of Oregon in 1988. Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea for "hostile acts" against the country.
Kenneth Bae as a freshmen student at the University of Oregon in 1988. Bae… (Associated Press / The Register-Guard,…)

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

BEIJING -- Adding to the strained relations with the U.S., North Korea said Thursday that an American citizen held since November has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the country.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean American tour operator from Washington state, was tried Tuesday by the country's highest court,  the official Korean Central News Agency said. The brief dispatch from the capital, Pyongyang, provided no details of any crime.

"The supreme court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labor for this crime," the statement said, identifying Bae by the North Korean rendering of his name, Pae Jun Ho.

The dispatch said Bae was arrested after he had entered Rason City, a special economic zone bordering China and Russia, as a tourist on Nov. 3.

Bae's friends have described him as a devout Christian who traveled frequently to North Korea in efforts to help the country's orphans.

The U.S. State Department last week called for Bae's immediate release  and has been working with the Swedish Embassy on the case, according to published reports.

There was speculation in South Korean media Thursday that former President Carter would travel to North Korea to secure Bae's release, akin to what Carter did in 2010 for another American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was detained in North Korea under a similar situation.

Though quieting in recent days, U.S.-North Korea relations have been particularly tense this year after Pyongyang's test firing of missiles and threats of a nuclear attack against the United States.

Several Americans have been detained by North Korea in recent years. In 2009, former President Clinton flew to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. The pair were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after crossing into North Korea through China while making a documentary about defectors.

For the record, 2:17 p.m. May 2, 2013: The original version of this post stated that Lisa Ling was detained in North Korea. Laura Ling, her sister, was the journalist who was detained.

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