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Imprisoned journalists unlikely to see hard labor

Protesters demand the release of two American journalists held in North Korea during a rally Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea. The journalists were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor Monday.

Associated Press

Protesters demand the release of two American journalists held in North Korea during a rally Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea. The journalists were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor Monday.

SEOUL, South Korea — Prisoners spend long days toiling in rice paddies and factories. Survivors say beatings are frequent, hunger is constant and clothing scarce in the freezing winter.

But experts said that based on past experiences, the two American journalists sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean labor prison probably won't see this side of the nation's notoriously brutal gulag. The reporters — Laura Ling and Euna Lee — will likely be kept apart from North Korean inmates as negotiators try to cut a deal for their release.

"I don't think the reporters will do hard labor. It's simply not in the North Koreans' interests to make them go through that," said Roh Jeong Ho, director of the Center for Korean Legal Studies at Columbia Law School in New York.

Roh agreed with several other analysts who have said Pyongyang will likely use the women to maximize its leverage in talks with Washington.

"We are working, as I said yesterday, in every way open to us to persuade the North Korean government to release the two journalists on a humanitarian basis, and we are going to continue to pursue every possible avenue," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.

The reporters were arrested on the China-North Korea border three months ago while reporting on the trafficking of women for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV.

Their five-day trial ended Monday when they were sentenced to 12 years of "reform through labor."

Russia holds up

new sanctions for North Korea

Seven key nations neared agreement Tuesday on a new U.N. resolution that would toughen sanctions against North Korea for defying the Security Council and conducting a second nuclear test, but diplomats said Russia still had problems with the text. Ambassadors from the five veto-wielding Security Council nations — the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France — and the two countries most closely affected by the test, Japan and South Korea, had hoped to announce agreement on the text after a two-hour closed-door meeting Tuesday. "We're making progress, but we're not done yet," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said.

Imprisoned journalists unlikely to see hard labor 06/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 10:35pm]

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