Detained Americans to Face Trial in North Korea

PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stands during the April 9, 2014, session of the Supreme Peoples Assembly, the countrys parliament, in Pyongyang.
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North Korea is preparing to bring two detained Americans to trial. Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle entered the country as tourists in April but have been accused of carrying out "hostile acts" against the country.

"Investigation is continuously ongoing but [we are] preparing for a trial based on some already confirmed hostile acts," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported today.

The short report said the "hostile acts" have been confirmed by evidence and their testimonies. It did not specify what the two did that was considered hostile or illegal, or what kind of punishment they might face. It's also unclear when the trial would begin.

"They're playing hardball. Their typical hostage diplomacy is no different from terrorism," said Jung-Hoon Lee, professor of International Relations at Yonsei University in Seoul.

"North Korea is obviously thinking the Obama administration is currently vulnerable, given the sensitive situation in Syria, Iran and Ukraine. So for them, this is the perfect time to rattle things up to gain leverage by using human hostage bargaining chips."

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Fowle, 56 and a resident of Ohio, entered North Korea April 29 and has been held there for committing acts inconsistent with the purpose of a tourist visit, North Korean state media said earlier this month. He left a Bible in a hotel room as he was leaving the country, considered a provocative act in North Korea where freedom of religion is strictly limited, according to South Korea and Japanese media.

But a spokesman for Fowle's family said he was not on a mission for his church. His wife and three children said they miss him and "are anxious for his return home," according to a statement after his detention that was provided by a spokesman for the family.

Miller, 24, entered April 10 with a tourist visa but tore up his documents upon arrival at the airport and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum, which North Korea says was a “rash behavior.” Miller is accused of a “gross violation of its legal order.“

North Korea has also been holding a Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae since November 2012. Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for what the North says were hostile acts against the state.

U.S. tourist Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, was held for a month last year as he tried to leave North Korea after a visit. North Korea finally let Newman leave after the American apologized for training and advising a U.S.-led North Korean partisan unit during the Korean War.

Newman, of Palo Alto, California, was pulled from a plane Oct. 26 while preparing to leave the communist nation after a 10-day tour. The former finance executive has a heart condition and his family had been worried about his health since he was detained while trying to leave the country on a tourist visa.

North Korea has been pushing to promote tourism as part of efforts to earn badly needed foreign currency, but the country is also extremely sensitive about how visitors act while in the country.

The peninsula is still in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.

The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, but Sweden, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, oversees consular issues for the United States there. State Department officials say they cannot release details about the cases because they need a privacy waiver to do so. Though a small number of U.S. citizens visit North Korea each year as tourists, the State Department strongly advises against it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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