North Korea Expected to Indict American It Is Holding

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SEOUL, South Korea -- An American tour operator is facing indictment in North Korea on charges that he tried to overthrow the government there, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday.

The announcement about the tour operator, Kenneth Bae, an American born in South Korea, could complicate Washington's diplomatic balancing act as it tries to hold a tough line with North Korea over its nuclear program while avoiding confrontations that could lead to an armed conflict.

Mr. Bae, from Washington State, traveled with a group of businessmen in November from Yanji, China, to the North Korean special economic zone of Rason, where he was arrested. The news report on Saturday said that the North had already finished its investigation and that Mr. Bae had admitted his guilt to charges that could draw the death penalty.

South Korean human rights advocates have described Mr. Bae as a devout Christian who not only ran tours to North Korea, but was also interested in helping orphans in the Communist country. They said security officials in the North may have been offended by pictures of orphans that Mr. Bae had taken and stored in his computer.

North Korea, a police state, has often used the plight of detained Americans as a bargaining chip in its dealings with Washington. Some were freed only after former American presidents traveled to the North.

The North has been locked in a standoff with America and South Korea since it detonated a nuclear bomb in February. Some analysts say that the nation's leader, Kim Jong-un, may be chafing at his inability to shift the two countries from the tough stance they have taken, refusing to offer the North aid to relieve tensions.

In January, Bill Richardson, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, tried to see Mr. Bae during a private trip to the North, but he said he was rebuffed by the government.

The Korean Central News Agency said that Mr. Bae's crime had been "clearly substantiated by evidence."

The news agency did not say when Mr. Bae's trial would begin. Under North Korea's criminal code, prosecutors are required to file a formal indictment within 10 days of the completion of an investigation. A court then rules on the case within 25 days.

North Korea indicated on Saturday that Mr. Bae would not be allowed to appeal if convicted.

In December, when North Korea officially confirmed Mr. Bae's detention, it said he had been arrested on charges of committing "hostile acts" against the North, a lesser crime than plotting to overthrow the government.

In 2009, North Korea arrested two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who it said had entered illegally and committed "hostile acts." They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, but were released five months later, after former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang, the North's capital, and met with Kim Jong-il, the leader at the time.

In 2010, another American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, was arrested and sentenced to eight years of hard labor for illegal entry and "hostile acts." He was freed when former President Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang.

Also on Saturday, 125 South Korean managers returned home from a jointly operated factory park in North Korea after Seoul decided to withdraw all its people amid continuing tensions. The remaining 50 were scheduled to return home in the next several days. North Korea pulled its workers out earlier this month.

"It is only a matter of time" before the industrial complex, the last symbol of attempted reconciliation between the two Koreas, is shut down for good, a North Korean government spokesman told the news agency.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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