Life Inside North Korea's Vast Labor Prisons

Families, Kang wrote, subsisted on salt-cured rat meat and used rat skins to patch the lone set of clothing each person was issued each year.

When he was just 7 years old, Kang's family was accused of treason because of a former business relationship with Japanese partners. Along with his parents and grandparents, he was sent to Yodok prison.

In the memoir he writes children attended school in the morning and in the afternoon worked farming corn, excavating clay and carrying timber. Kang wrote of walking 12 miles carrying a log on his shoulder.

Prisoners, including children, were forced to watch public executions and throw stones at the hanging corpses, shouting: ''Down with the traitors of the people!''

Satellite images of the camps depict mass graves, barracks, work areas and public execution sites.

There are two main types of camps: one for political prisoners and felons and another exclusively for prisoners repatriated from China after trying to escape North Korea's brutal regime and famine, according to a 2003 report published by the Committee called "The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea's Prison Camps."

The camps not set aside for inmates accused of fleeing to China are run by two different police agencies, the People's Safety Agency and the more political National Security Agency.

Observers in South Korea speculate that the American journalists Ling and Lee sentenced Monday, after a four day trial in which they had no lawyers or due process, would likely be sent to a camp run by the PSA.

The journalists were found guilty of committing a "grave crime" against North Korea and of illegally entering the country, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said the South Korea-based NK Daily, an online newspaper that monitors news from North Korea, suggested the women might be sent to one of two "special" camps reserved for women and Communist Party members, where conditions are marginally better.

"These camps are better-equipped than other general camps. They serve relatively better food," the paper reported.

The journalists were arrested March 14. They were working near the border on a story about women fleeing North Korea to China for Current TV, a San Francisco-based cable station founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

There are fears Pyongyang is using the women as bargaining chips as the U.N. debates a new resolution to punish the country for its May 25 nuclear tests.

Gore has not commented about the arrest or sentencing, leading some to speculate that he is trying to negotiate with Pyongyang for their release.

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