Detained U.S. Citizen to Face Verdict in N. Korean Court

North Korea said it will hand down a verdict on a detained American citizen accused of crimes against the state, the communist country’s official Korean Central News Agency reported yesterday.

Pae Jun Ho, who entered North Korea’s Rason City on Nov. 3 as a tourist, will face judgment in the Supreme Court after admitting to the charges, KCNA said, without citing a source. Pae was involved with a Protestant Christian religious movement, according to a Dec. 11 CNN report that identified him as Kenneth Bae.

The State Department is aware of the reports a U.S. citizen will face trial in North Korea, department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an e-mail. The State Department will work closely with representatives of the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, which visited the U.S. citizen last week. A delegation that included former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson failed during its visit to North Korea in January to secure Pae’s release.

“In the process of investigation, he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it,” the KCNA report said, referring to the country’s official name Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Nuclear Threat

The Korean peninsula has been on edge since February, when Kim Jong Un’s regime detonated an atomic bomb in defiance of United Nations sanctions and then threatened preemptive nuclear strikes against its enemies. The Obama administration has rejected claims North Korea possesses the ability to launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.

“North Korea wants an excuse to have talks with the U.S.,” Park Joon Young, a professor of international relations at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said by phone today. The threat to hand down a verdict on Pae “will be used to make a deal with the U.S. in return for releasing him.”

Workers Withdrawn

The KCNA report came as South Korea began withdrawing its citizens from a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. The North on April 8 recalled its workers from the Gaeseong industrial zone, the last point of inter-Korean exchange and an important cash source for the impoverished nation.

Several U.S. citizens have been detained in recent years in North Korea. All of them have been released after negotiations. Eddie Jun, a Korean-American missionary, was released in 2011 after being detained for half a year for proselytizing, according to the Associated Press. In February 2010, North Korea released an American missionary, Robert Park, after he was held for about two months.

North Korea’s latest action on Pae is “part of their typical behavior to flag their existence in the global society,” Park said.

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se met Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on April 24 in Beijing to pave the way for the start of three-way “strategic dialogue” with the U.S., South Korean ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young said.

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