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(2nd LD) N.K. sentences Korean-American to 10 years hard labor for 'spying'

All News 16:52 April 29, 2016

(ATTN: REWRITES headline, lead; ADDS more details throughout)

SEOUL, April 29 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Friday its highest court has sentenced a detained Korean-American to 10 years of hard labor on charges of espionage and subversion, following a similar verdict for a U.S. college student in March.

Kim Dong-chul was convicted of trying to steal classified military information from the North, according to the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The KCNA said that Kim "confessed to all crimes" he had committed to overthrow the North's social system as he was suspected of having provided the collected information to South Korea's spy agency.

"(These acts) are tantamount to state subversive plots and espionage," it said.

The 62-year-old was arrested on charges of espionage in October. He pleaded guilty and asked North Korea for leniency in an internationally broadcast press conference last month.

His detainment first became known in a CNN interview broadcast on Jan. 11, soon after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test.

Prior to his arrest, Kim lived in China near the North Korean border for 15 years and frequently visited the North Korean special economic zone of Rason.

The North's state media said authorities nabbed him as he was waiting to receive a USB drive containing sensitive military information from a source in Rason.

The sentence, handed down by the communist country's Supreme Court, follows a similar one given to an American college student, Otto Warmbier, who was caught trying to steal a propaganda banner from a Pyongyang hotel. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor last month.

Experts said the North has previously used detained Americans as leverage to force the U.S. to open bilateral talks with it.

The North is under pressure as the United Nations Security Council imposed tougher sanctions against North Korea earlier this month over its nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

In 2014, Pyongyang released three detained Americans -- Kenneth Bae, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Fowle.

Lim Hyeon-soo, a Korean-Canadian pastor, has also been held in captivity in the North since he entered the country via China on a humanitarian mission in January 2015.

In December, the North's highest court sentenced Lim to life in prison, citing his "subversive plots" against the North's regime.

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