North Korea to put two detained US men on trial

A North Korean soldier (R) looks south on the North side, as a South Korean soldier stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, May 14 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption North Korea has arrested US nationals in the past, freeing them after visits from senior officials

North Korea says it will put two detained US men on trial, accusing them of "committing hostile acts".

Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle had been investigated and would be brought before a court, the state news agency KCNA reported.

It said that suspicions about the two men had been confirmed by evidence and the pair's own statements, but gave no further details.

A US-Korean missionary, Kenneth Bae, is currently serving a 15-year sentence.

He was arrested in November 2012 and later convicted of trying to overthrow the North Korean government.

US attempts to secure his release have so far proved unsuccessful, despite fears over his health.

Bargaining chips?

Both of the US nationals to be put on trial entered North Korea on tourist visas.

Jeffrey Fowle entered North Korea on 29 April and was detained in early June as he was leaving the country, according to North Korean reports.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Jeffrey Fowle will be put on trial, North Korea says

Japanese agency Kyodo said Mr Fowle was arrested because he left a Bible at a hotel.

Matthew Todd Miller was detained on 10 April, KCNA reported.

The agency said he had torn up his tourist visa, shouting that he had "come to the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] after choosing it as a shelter".

North Korea has in the past been accused of using arrested Americans as diplomatic bargaining chips.

The US wants Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for economic and diplomatic incentives, but talks on a deal agreed in 2007 have been stalled for several years.

Last year, North Korea carried out its third nuclear test and launched a three-stage rocket that Washington called a banned test of long-range missile technology.

The US has no formal diplomatic ties with North Korea. But in the past, senior US figures including former President Bill Clinton have travelled to the country to ensure the release of American detainees.

Other US detainees in North Korea

  • Eddie Jun Yong-su: Businessman detained for six months in 2011, freed after a visit led by US envoy Robert King
  • Aijalon Mahli Gomes: Teacher and Christian jailed in 2010 for eight years over illegal entry via China - freed after ex-US President Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang
  • Robert Park: US activist crossed into North Korea via China in late 2009 - freed in 2010 by North Korea
  • Laura Ling and Euna Lee: Journalists jailed in 2009 for 12 years over illegal entry via the Chinese border - freed after ex-US President Bill Clinton met former NK leader Kim Jong-il

US citizens held by N Korea

Religious activity is severely restricted in the North and missionaries have been arrested on many previous occasions.

Kenneth Bae, the highest-profile of the currently detained Americans, was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour in May 2013.

North Korea says he used his tourism business to form groups to overthrow the government.

The US has tried on at least two occasions to arrange a visit by a senior human rights envoy, Robert King, to discuss his case, but Pyongyang has cancelled both these visits.

Detainees from other nations can be treated differently - earlier this year, Pyongyang deported Australian missionary John Short, who was detained after apparently leaving Christian pamphlets at a tourist site.


Also on Monday, North Korea proposed a suspension in hostilities and slander between the two Koreas.

The proposal comes after a volley of short-range missile launches by the North, and just days ahead of a visit to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China is North Korea's political and economic lifeline, but Mr Xi has pointedly chosen to prioritise a visit to the South, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson.

In January, North Korea published an open letter to South Korea calling for an end to all hostile military acts and slander.

But this reconciliation drive ended a few months later with sexual slurs and racist abuse directed at the presidents of South Korea and the US.

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