SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) — North Korea said Tuesday that two female US journalists whom it jailed last week for 12 years had admitted a politically motivated smear campaign against the communist state.
Official media, giving its first details of their alleged crimes, said they crossed the border illegally "for the purpose of making animation files to be used for an anti-DPRK (North Korea) smear campaign over its human rights issue."
A Pyongyang court on June 8 sentenced Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, to 12 years of "reform through labour" for the illegal border crossing and an unspecified "grave crime."
Border guards detained them on March 17 along the frontier with China while they were researching a story about the plight of refugees fleeing the hardline communist North.
Relations between the North and the US and its allies are at their worst for years following Pyongyang's second nuclear test on May 25 and subsequent UN sanctions.
In response to the sanctions the North vowed Saturday to make more nuclear bombs and to start a new atomic weapons programme based on enriched uranium.
The official Korean Central News Agency said the TV journalists at their trial had admitted criminal acts.
It said they were "prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle" the North's system "by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it."
The agency said the "criminals admitted and accepted the judgment," which cannot be appealed.
It added: "We are following with a high degree of vigilance the attitude of the US which spawned the criminal act against the DPRK."
Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Seoul's Dongguk University said the North was sending a message that it was time for the US to start negotiations and seek a political solution, since the legal procedure had been completed.
The report comes just before a US-South Korean summit in Washington, he noted. "North Korea appears to be trying to draw US public attention to this issue.
"By dropping espionage charges which could complicate the settlement of this issue, North Korea paved the way for a negotiated solution," Kim told AFP.
President Barack Obama was set Tuesday to meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, who is seeking security guarantees as the standoff escalates with North Korea.
US and South Korean officials have said there are signs the North may be preparing to test-fire another long-range missile, and a South Korean media report Tuesday said preparatory work at a launch pad was complete.
US intelligence sources also believe the North is likely to respond to the tougher UN sanctions announced last Friday with another nuclear test, according to American TV networks.
Lee and Ling work for California-based Current TV, which was co-founded by former vice president Al Gore. He has been suggested as a possible intermediary.
The agency named three company officials whom it said had discussed with the women the shooting of a "documentary slandering the DPRK."
Media freedom groups have slammed the sentences against the pair. Their families and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have appealed for their release on humanitarian grounds.
Washington says their case should not be linked to the nuclear standoff.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans, a majority of them women, have fled across the border to China in recent years to escape privation and food shortages or seek greater freedoms.
Those caught in China are liable to repatriation as economic migrants and can face brutal punishment back home.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »