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North Korea Puts Two U.S. Journalists on Trial
The families of Ling and Lee, who this week broke their silence with joint appearances on "Larry King Live" and NBC's "Today" show, said the two women say they have been treated "fairly" while in custody.
The Swedish ambassador in Pyongyang has visited them three times, and they send and receive letters through him. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea.
Ling and Lee were working for Current TV, a cable and Web network co-founded by former vice president Al Gore, when they were detained March 17 by North Korean soldiers along the border with China. The reporters were working on a story about North Koreans who flee the country, but the circumstances of their arrest are not clear.
In television appearances this week, their families said they do not know what happened on the border but offered apologies to the North Korean government and asked that the women be released as soon as possible.
"If at any point the girls went into North Korea, then we apologize on their behalf," Lisa Ling said. "They never intended to do so, and we are sorry."
She said her sister has an ulcer and needs medication for it. Lee's husband, Michael Saldate, said that their daughter, Hannah, 4, started crying this week between television appearances, saying, "I want to see my mommy."
Determining what legal procedures will be used in the reporters' trial is a difficult task, because North Korean courts -- like every institution in the country -- are controlled by top government officials.
"Trying to determine the nature of the law applied in their trial is meaningless," said Lee Jae-won, a lawyer in Seoul and chairman of a committee that studies human rights in North Korea for the Korean Lawyers Association. "It is going to be a political trial."
Experts on North Korea's diplomatic maneuvers say the trial, sentencing and time served in a labor camp are all linked to the evolving relationship between North Korea and the United States.
"Given that North Korea is now moving to launch an ICBM missile, I expect that it would be a while before the reporters return home," said Koh Yu-whan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.
North Korea has previously released Americans who illegally entered the country. Ten years ago, Bill Richardson, then a member of Congress and now governor of New Mexico, traveled to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of an American who got drunk and swam across a river into North Korea.
"We got him out," Richardson said on CNN this week. "Unfortunately, he committed suicide after I got him out."