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Sunday 25 February 2018

North Korea sentences American tour guide to 15 years hard labour

Kenneth Bae
Kenneth Bae

Malcolm Moore

NORTH Korea has sentenced an American tour guide to 15 years in a labour camp for unspecified crimes against the state.

Kenneth Bae (Pae Jun-ho), a 44-year-old ethnic Korean with United States citizenship, appeared on trial before the Supreme Court in Pyongyang on Tuesday, according to the North Korean state news wire.


He was charged with "committing crimes aimed at toppling the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with hostility towards it".


Mr Bae was arrested last November as he led a tour group of five Europeans into the Rason Special Economic Zone, a pilot region on the border of China and Russia which is open to foreign companies.


Mr Bae, who is believed to live in China, ran a travel company called Nation Tours and had led several trips into North Korea without incident.


North Korea has not revealed what crime he committed, but said "his crimes were proved by evidence".

Since his arrest, Mr Bae has become another negotiating chip between Pyongyang and Washington, with the US calling for his immediate release.


In January, Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, and Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, travelled to North Korea to try to secure his release but were not allowed to see him. Mr Richardson handed officials a letter from Mr Bae's son to give to him.


The US, which has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, has conducted negotiations for Mr Bae's release through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang.

As the news of Mr Bae's sentence broke, Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, suggested that Jimmy Carter, the former US president who brokered an end to a nuclear crisis in June 1994, might again visit Pyongyang.


"North Korea appears to have invited him to visit," an unnamed source told Yonhap.


North Korea still holds up Mr Carter's "begging" visit in its propaganda as a triumph for the country over the US.


In 2010 Mr Carter negotiated the release of Mahli Gomes, an American sentenced to eight years of hard labour for illegally crossing into the North from China.

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