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Brinkmanship boils as DPRK sentences journos to hard labor

THE Democratic People's Republic of Korea, facing United Nations sanctions for last month's nuclear test, yesterday raised the stakes in its growing confrontation with the United States by sentencing two American journalists to 12 years at hard labor for "grave crimes."

The sentence follows US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's warning on Sunday that the US was considering putting North Korea back on its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, of US media outlet Current TV, were arrested in March working on a story near the border between North Korea and China. The trial for the two opened last Thursday.

"The trial confirmed the grave crime they committed against the Korean nation and their illegal border crossing as they had already been indicted and sentenced each of them to 12 years of reform through labor," North Korea's KCNA news agency said in a brief dispatch.

US President Barack Obama is "deeply concerned" by the news, the White House said.

"We are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release," White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement.

The State Department urged North Korea to release the two journalists.

Test "provocative"

Obama at the weekend called the DPRK's latest nuclear test, which was followed by a series of missile tests, "extraordinarily provocative" and said that this time there would be no appeasement by the US.

North Korea threatened to retaliate with "extreme" measures if the United Nations punished it for last month's nuclear test.

"Our response would be to consider sanctions against us as a declaration of war and answer it with extreme hard-line measures," North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary yesterday.

The country also issued a no-sail warning off its east coast, up to 240 kilometers off the Wonsan area from where it launched a short-range missile in May and a barrage of short-range missiles in 2006.

North Korea has said it would fire an intercontinental ballistic missile if the UN Security Council did not apologize for punishing it for its April rocket launch, seen by the US and some other countries as a disguised missile test.

The DPRK appears to be preparing a long-range missile for a test that could be conducted as early as this month. It also appears to be readying for tests of mid-range missiles that could strike anywhere in South Korea or most of Japan.

The Security Council may adopt a new resolution as early as this week.


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