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NORTH Korea had delayed sending two convicted American journalists to a prison labor camp in a possible bid to seek talks with Washington on their release, a scholar who visited the North said in an interview published in Seoul.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who work for former United States Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV media group, were being kept in a guest house in the North Korean capital and had not yet been sent to a prison camp as called for in their sentences, University of Georgia political scientist Han Park said.

"I heard from North Korean officials that the American journalists were doing fine at a guest house in Pyongyang," Park told JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

Park, originally from South Korea, arrived in Seoul on Thursday after a trip to Pyongyang.

Ling and Lee were detained near the North Korean border with China and were sentenced last month to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally and for "hostile acts."

"North Korea's move not to carry out the sentence suggests that it could release them through a dialogue with the US and they could be set free at an early date, depending on the US gesture," Park said.


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