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N. Korea sentences US man to 15 years hard labor

Kenneth Bae seen as pawn in standoff with USA

N. Korea sentences US man to 15 years hard labor
Kenneth Bae, center, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor
Stephen Hong, Seoul

May 2, 2013

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A court in North Korea has sentenced US tour operator Kenneth Bae to 15 years hard labor after finding him guilty of unspecified crimes against the state.  

The state-run Korea Central News Agency made the announcement without specifying the crimes when the verdict was handed down on Tuesday, although it stated on April 27 that “he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple North Korea.” The charge can carry the death penalty.

Bae, a Christian ethnic Korean tour operator, was travelling in the special economic zone of Rason close to the border with China and Russia in November when he was reportedly arrested after taking photos of starving children and public executions of opponents of the regime.

The US State Department said in a statement last week that it was working through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang in a bid to secure Bae’s release.

Lee Jang-hi, professor of international law at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said that Bae’s imprisonment would be used as a way to try “to bring the US to talks as it considers him a bargaining chip for dialogue with the US.”

In 2009, the North secured what it described as "a groveling visit" by former US president Bill Clinton after two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were captured after North Korea said they had entered the country illegally from across the Chinese border.

North Korea has in recent weeks threatened nuclear strikes against the US and South Korea, shut down its hotline with the South and closed the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex just north of the DMZ, the only other formal means of daily communication between the two Koreas.

Last month, the North Korean government requested acknowledgment as a nuclear power which was denied by the international community led by the US.

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