North Korea has confirmed that two journalists, a Korean-American and a Chinese-American, who were filming across the Tumen River from the Chinese side of the border, were taken into custody by border officials. Their case is 'under investigation'.
AFP - North Korea on Saturday confirmed that it had detained two American journalists for illegally entering the country from China earlier this week and said their case was under investigation.
The US State Department had expressed concern over the fate of the two women, who are believed to have been taken into custody by border guards patrolling the Tumen river, a common escape route for those fleeing the North.
Their detention comes as tensions run high in the region over Pyongyang's plans to launch what it says is a communications satellite early next month, which the United States and its allies say is really a disguised missile test.
"Two Americans were detained on March 17 while illegally intruding into the territory of the DPRK by crossing the DPRK-China border," the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a three-line dispatch.
"A competent organ is now investigating the case."
Diplomatic sources and media reports identified the two women as Euna Lee, a Korean-American, and Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, who work for Current TV in California.
A diplomatic source told AFP the two were held by security guards over "suspected border violations" after being caught Tuesday shooting video on the North's side of the river.
North Korea is one of the world's most isolated and impoverished countries. Journalists who want to visit must obtain special visas and are accompanied by official guides.
Few such visits have been allowed in recent years.
Washington and Seoul say the North could be preparing to test a Taepodong-2 missile, theoretically capable of reaching Alaska, in violation of a UN resolution passed after missile and nuclear tests in 2006.
Pyongyang for its part is angry about what it sees as Washington's "hostile" policy toward the communist state. It said this week that it no longer wanted to receive food aid, according to the State Department.
The North did however on Saturday reopen military communications lines with the South as well as the border, allowing hundreds of South Koreans to access the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial complex.
A human rights activist and Protestant pastor, Chun Kiwon, who helped arrange the journalists' trip to China, told AFP that they had been held since Tuesday together with their Chinese guide, an ethnic Korean.
Chun, who heads a missionary group providing assistance to North Korean defectors, said they had met him in Seoul to ask for his advice on their mission, and entered China last Friday.
The American journalists told Chun that they were going to do a programme on North Koreans who have fled the North.
At the border on Saturday, only a few Chinese and South Korean tourists braved the icy winter temperatures in Tumen to gaze across the partially frozen river at North Korea, an AFP photographer at the scene witnessed.
Pyongyang has in the past freed Americans it has detained.
In 1996, former US congressman Bill Richardson negotiated the release of US citizen Evan Hunziker, who had been detained for three months on suspicion of spying after swimming the Yalu river.
Richardson, who is now the governor of New Mexico, at the time described Hunziker as a confused young man who had engaged in an "adventuresome frolic apparently under the influence of alcohol."
In 1994, Richardson helped negotiate the release of a US military helicopter pilot shot down after straying into North Korea.
Date created : 2009-03-21