A North Korean court gave two South Koreans life sentences of hard labor for spying, Yonhap News reports, citing North Korea’s Korean Central Television.
Kim Kuk Gi and Choe Chun Gil confessed in March to charges of spying near the border with China and conducting a covert smear campaign against the Kim Jong Un regime, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. South Korea called North Korea’s claims groundless.
Both were born in South Korea and later recruited by the nation’s intelligence service while living in Chinese cities near North Korea, KCNA said.
The move risks further straining ties between the government in Seoul and the regime in Pyongyang. After claiming its navy tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile, North Korea said this month it test-fired anti-ship rockets. Earlier this year, the isolated nation slammed U.S.-South Korea military drills near the border as agitation for nuclear war.
The sentenced pair are among four South Koreans detained in North Korea, including missionary Kim Jung Wook and Joo Won Moon, a 21-year-old South Korean student with a U.S. green card, according to Yonhap.
Kim Jung Wook was arrested in 2013 on charges of illegal entry and “hostile acts” against the country. North Korea has refused talks with South Korea in the past to discuss the release of the Christian missionary.
South Korea has 630,000 armed forces facing North Korea’s 1.2-million-strong military across the heavily armed demilitarized zone between the nations.