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Bill Clinton in Pyongyang to secure release of US journalists

Video by Christopher MOORE

Text by Mehdi CHEBIL

Latest update : 2009-11-16

Former US President Bill Clinton arrived in the North Korean capital Pyongyang on a surprise visit on Tuesday in a bid to secure the release of two US journalists sentenced to 12 years of "reform through labour" for unspecified "grave crimes."

Former US President Bill Clinton arrived in North Korea on a surprise mission to secure the release of two American journalists held by the secretive Communist regime for over four months.


The White House insisted Clinton's visit was a “solely private mission” as Pyongyang and Washington are still officially locked in a tense standoff over the North’s recent nuclear test.


When they set off to cross the border between China and North Korea on March 17, Laura Ling and Euna Lee had no idea they would end up becoming pawns in a global nuclear standoff.


The two US nationals were arrested by North Korean soldiers as they were reporting on refugees fleeing the impoverished country for California-based Current TV.


North Korean authorities initially slammed the pair as “spies” and accused them of preparing a politically motivated smear campaign. A court in June sentenced them to 12 years of “reforms through labour” for illegal entry and other offences.


The harsh sentences point to Pyongyang’s intent to use the jailed journalist as leverage to obtain US concessions in the diplomatic arena.


North Korea raised the stakes earlier this year, firing multiple missile tests, quitting six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and testing a nuclear device in May, provoking international furore.


Although Washington has refused to link the journalists’ detention with the nuclear standoff, the jailing of Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, has put a strain on the US diplomatic campaign for tougher UN sanctions.


Laura Ling, in a July telephone call to her sister Lisa, who was living in the US, was quoted as saying: “Look, we violated North Korean law and we need our government to help us.”


US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the detainees’ families have repeatedly appealed for their release on humanitarian grounds.


Bill Clinton’s mission is the highest profile visit by an American to Pyongyang in nearly a decade. Although North Korea has dismissed the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, it has indicated willingness to engage in direct discussion with the US.

Date created : 2009-08-04