North Korea has decided to put two US journalists on trial following an investigation into allegations that they entered the country illegally and conducted "hostile acts," state-run media said on Friday.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists working for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV media venture, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border while reporting on refugees living in China.
Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said on Friday that the investigation had concluded and that the reporters would stand trial "on the basis of the confirmed crimes."
It did not say exactly what charges they face or when the trial would take place. State-run media had said late last month that they were being investigated for illegal entry and unspecified "hostile acts." Under North Korea's criminal code, conviction for illegal entry could mean up to three years in a labor camp.
It was unclear what charges would be applied for "hostile acts," according to South Korean legal expert Moon Dae-hong said, but conviction on espionage or "hostility toward North Koreans" carries a sentence of five to 10 years in prison. In Washington, State Department spokesman Fred Lash said Thursday night he had not seen the report and had no comment. Current TV officials were not available for comment.
In Seoul, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon urged the North to abide by legal procedures during the trial. The Americans' prolonged detention comes amid tensions over North Korea's move to fire a three-stage rocket on April 5 in defiance of international calls to refrain from a provocative launch seen by some as a test of its long-range missile technology.
The UN Security Council condemned the launch as a violation of a 2006 resolution barring the North from ballistic missile-related activity, part of efforts to stem North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions.
North Korea responded by pulling out of six-nation negotiations on disarming the regime in exchange for aid. Within days, Pyongyang booted international monitors from its nuclear facilities and said it would work toward restarting the plants.
Separately, the North also has been holding a South Korean worker at a joint industrial complex for weeks for allegedly denouncing Pyongyang's political system.