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(LEAD) N. Korea sentences Korean-American to 15 years hard labor

All Headlines 13:47 May 02, 2013

(ATTN: ADDS more details in para 6-8)

SEOUL, May 2 (Yonhap) -- North Korea sentenced a Korean-American tour operator detained in the country to 15 years of hard labor Thursday on charges of unspecified anti-state crimes, Pyongyang official media said.

"The Highest Court handed down the 15-year labor sentence to Bae Joon-ho who committed crimes against the country," the (North) Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch.

The country held the trial on Tuesday. The Korean-American tour operator, also known as Kenneth Bae, was arrested after arriving in the North on Nov. 3, 2012 for tourism purposes, the report said, without specifying the crimes.

A British media outlet has said Bae was charged with illegally filming child beggars during his trip to the impoverished country.

Bae is the sixth American citizen to be detained by the North since 2009. All other detainees have been freed through contacts with the United States.

A labor sentence is usually given to those who are charged with a serious crime in the communist country including murder, robbery, and rape as well as embezzlement.

The heavy sentence for Bae is believed to have come as the North is trying to use the case as diplomatic leverage to win U.S. attention amid tensions with the outside world following the country's third nuclear test on Feb. 12.

The U.S. on Tuesday called for the immediate release of the American citizen, with State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell saying, "You know the welfare of U.S. citizens is a critical and top priority for this department."

The sentence came hours after news broke that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter may soon travel to North Korea as part of his efforts to win the release of the Korean-American and broker dialogue.

Reports said Carter recently sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, calling for talks with North Korea and expressing his intent to visit Pyongyang again. The former U.S. president may have been invited by the North, according to the reports.

Carter last visited North Korea in April 2011 along with a few other members of The Elders, an international non-government organization. He failed to meet then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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