WASHINGTON, March 21, 2009 -- North Korea today confirmed it is holding two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were in China working on a story about North Korean refugees and human trafficking.
The detention of the two women is further straining an already tense relationship between the United States and North Korea.
The reporting Ling and Lee were doing took them all the way to the border between China and North Korean.
It is a difficult, even dangerous trip. They got help planning the journey from Reverend Chun Ki Won, a Christian missionary from South Korea whose organization smuggles Bibles into North Korea through China.
The last time he spoke with Ling and Lee on the phone was the morning of March 17, when they were on their way to the border town, Dandong, he said.
"It's hard to determine the border, that which is North Korea or that which is China because it is just frozen river," he said.
So Chun said it's possible that the reporters inadvertently stepped onto North Korean territory, and that was likely when North Korean soldiers arrested the two women, accusing them of entering the country illegally.
Their camerman and guide escaped and reported the incident to U.S. officials.
Ling has some high profile connections back home. Her sister is television reporter, Lisa Ling, a former host on ABC's "The View" who also appears frequently on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
Laura Ling works for Current TV, the San Francisco-based news program, founded by Al Gore, who is reportedly lobbying U.S. officials behind the scenes for the reporters' release.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working official diplomatic channels, but it's a delicate mission.
It's one that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson understands well, having visited North Korea several times and having negotiated the release of an American from North Korea in 1996.
"If they release them in next few days, it means the North Koreans are interested in dialogue with the Obama administration," he said. "If they don't release them in the next few days, it means that they are rising stakes."