SEOUL — North Korea had sentenced a Korean-American tour operator to 15 years’ hard labor for “hostile acts,” stoking tensions with the United States which had pleaded for his release.
Kim Jong-Un’s isolated regime is likely to use the detainee as a bargaining chip, experts said, as it seeks concessions from the United States following weeks of bellicose threats of missile strikes and of nuclear war.
Pae Jun-Ho, Kenneth Bae (US name), was arrested in November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason and been accused of trying to “topple the DPRK”.
“The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labor for this crime,” according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), which said his trial was held on April 30.
A senior US State Department official said Washington was “working to confirm the reports” of Bae’s sentence through the Swedish embassy, which represents US interests in the North in the absence of diplomatic ties.
US politician Bill Richardson failed to secure Bae’s release when he visited North Korea in January with Eric Schmidt, Google chairman.
Richardson, a former New Mexico governor and ex-ambassador to the United Nations, was unable to even meet Bae during his trip, which was criticized by Washington as ill-timed following Pyongyang’s rocket launch in December.
“The escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula is entirely attributable to the US heinous hostile policy toward the DPRK,” it said beyond the rising tension between Korea and USA.
“The US is seriously mistaken if it thinks it can cover up its sinister scenario by talking about dialogue though it is the arch criminal who drove the situation to the brink of a nuclear war.”
Several Americans have been held in North Korea in recent years.
In 2011 a US delegation secured the release of Eddie Jun Yong-Su, a California-based businessman who had been detained for apparent missionary activities.
“The North will surely try to take advantage of Kenneth Bae as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the US,” said Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“But the whole atmosphere is quite different from when similar hostage disputes erupted in the past. The diplomatic and military situation is so tense that the US is unlikely to dramatically change its stance or try to open dialogue with the North just to save this guy,” he said.
Pyongyang demanded an end to UN sanctions and to US-South Korean military drills in exchange for talks last month.
Written by: Jhon Limwhel Titular