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Last Updated: Monday, 16 April 2007, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
US-Korean man jailed for spying
North Korean soldier on the border with South Korea (file photo)
The two Koreas are still technically at war
An American man of Korean origin has been sentenced to nine years in jail by a South Korean court for spying for Communist North Korea.

Jan Min-ho, also known as Michael Jang, was found guilty of passing sensitive information about politicians and security to Pyongyang.

He was one of five people convicted of espionage by the court in Seoul.

Prosecutors have called it the biggest spying case since the two Koreas began a process of reconciliation in 2000.

Two of the five are members of the left-leaning minor opposition Democratic Labor Party (DLP).

Pyongyang had denounced the case as a "calculated plot" to smear North Korea.

'Politically-motivated'

Michael Jang, 44, was accused of being the group's ring leader, regularly meeting North Korean agents in China and Thailand after his first visit to the North in 1989.

He was found guilty of passing on "national secrets", which included details about South Korean politics and its politicians.

"Judging from the danger and confidentiality of the crime, a heavy jail sentence is not escapable," judge Kim Dong-o told him.

The other four received jail sentences of between four and six years.

They were told by the judge that their links with Jang meant that they could not avoid responsibility over the spying charges, "even if their behaviour was driven from their aspiration for inter-Korean unification".

He said their sentences reflect the fact "it is hard to believe the information they had delivered to the North seriously hurts national security".

The DLP - which has been under fire for its pro-North Korea image - said the case was politically motivated.

"This shows that acts of trying to accuse our party of being associated with a spy ring were only constructed to run the Democratic Labor Party into the ground," it said.

North and South Korea are still technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice rather than a peace agreement.

But South Korea has operated a so-called "sunshine policy" of engagement with its Communist neighbour since 2000.

That policy has come under strain since North Korea tested a nuclear device in October, with calls for the South to be tougher on its neighbour.




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