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Published Jul. 12, 2010

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea said Friday that an American imprisoned for illegally entering the reclusive communist country tried to kill himself.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes of Boston attempted to commit suicide and is being treated at a hospital, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said, citing information from "a relevant" government entity.

KCNA said the attempt was "driven by his strong guilty conscience" and despair that the U.S. government has not tried to gain his freedom.

The brief dispatch also said the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang was aware of his condition. The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, and Sweden handles Washington's interests in the country.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that Swedish diplomats visited Gomes on Friday, their eighth such visit.

"We reiterate our urge for the North Korean government to release Mr. Gomes on humanitarian grounds," Toner said. "We're concerned about his welfare."

Gomes was sentenced in April to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000 for entering the country illegally and for an unspecified "hostile act."

His family members are "very upset and very concerned," said their spokeswoman, Thaleia Schlesinger.

Gomes' motivation for entering North Korea is unclear. He was teaching English in South Korea before his arrest in the North on Jan. 25.

Gomes had attended rallies in Seoul in support of Robert Park, a fellow Christian who crossed into North Korea from China to call attention to the North's dismal human rights record.

Park was expelled from North Korea about 40 days after entering the country last Christmas.

American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were freed in August 2009 after being held for five months for illegally entering the North.

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Attack on ship is condemned

The U.N. Security Council on Friday condemned an attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors, but it didn't directly blame communist North Korea. North Korea's U.N. ambassador, Sin Son Ho, called that "our great diplomatic victory." The Security Council statement, approved by all 15 council members, expresses "deep concern" over the findings of a South Korean-led international investigation that concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the 1,200-ton Cheonan on March 26. But the statement doesn't identify who is responsible and "takes note" of North Korea's response "that it had nothing to do with the incident."