Seoul: North Korea will put two US journalists arrested last month on its border with China on trial to face criminal charges, its media said on Friday, ratcheting up tensions already raised by a defiant rocket launch.
The announcement came as Russia’s foreign minister wrapped up a visit to the North’s capital, pressing Pyongyang not to restart its nuclear arms programme.
“A competent organ of the DPRK (North Korea) concluded the investigation into the journalists of the United States. The organ formally decided to refer them to a trial on the basis of the confirmed crimes committed by them,” the North’s KCNA news agency said in a brief dispatch.
The pair, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of US media outlet Current TV, were arrested in March along the border between North Korea and China. North Korea has accused them of illegally entering its territory with “hostile” intent.
The US State Department had no immediate comment.
The planned trial comes as the reclusive state faces U.N. Security Council censure for launching a long-range rocket on April 5 that regional powers said was a disguised ballistic missile test that violated U.N. resolutions.
The prickly and destitute state responded to being chastised by quitting six-party nuclear disarmament talks and threatening to restart its plant that makes arm-grade plutonium, which was being taken apart under a deal with the five powers in return for aid.
Resume six party talks
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said while visiting the North’s capital on Thursday there was no easy solution to the international crisis surrounding the North’s missile and nuclear arms programme.
He also told the North Koreans that all sides in the nuclear talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States should look for ways to resume the often-stalled discussions, a Russian diplomat quoted him as saying.
The North’s state news agency said the Russian delegation “reconfirmed its previous stand of opposing U.N. sanctions on the DPRK and paid attention to our stand that six-party talks have become no longer useful”.
Lavrov flew to Seoul on Friday for talks with South Korean officials. There was no indication in North Korean media that he met leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, but KCNA said he passed on a letter from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Kim.
Financial market players in Seoul, used to North Korea’s sabre rattling, have mostly shrugged off Pyongyang’s threat to bolster its nuclear deterrent.
But analysts say markets may take notice of heightened political risk if the North restarts a lab at its nuclear complex to separate more plutonium for weapons, which could increase the likelihood of a new nuclear test.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday Washington was willing to have a dialogue with Pyongyang, but urged the world not to give in to its unpredictable behaviour.
Washington has said it was in touch with the North through various channels to secure the release of the two journalists, with details of their pre-dawn arrest still murky several weeks after they were taken into custody.
It took three months to secure the release of an American in 1996 after he was detained by North Korean guards when he crossed the Yalu River that also separates the North and China.
North Korea is also holding a South Korean worker in an industrial enclave just north of their shared border for allegedly insulting its political system. In a rare meeting with the South this week, the North refused to discuss his fate.