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Page last updated at 04:40 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

N Korea treats journalists 'well'

Journalists Euna Lee (L) and Laura Ling
It is thought that the women were researching North Korean refugees

The United States says it has received assurances from North Korea that two American journalists who were detained there last week will be treated well.

The US has asked Swedish diplomats in North Korea to request access to them.

The journalists are believed to have been on the Chinese side of the border when North Korean guards arrested them and took them back to North Korea.

Tension between North Korea and the international community is high ahead of the North's "satellite" launch.

The US had initially accepted media reports that the two were being interrogated for espionage, but later clarified that the US understood the two are being investigated for illegal entry of North Korea.

The two who have been identified as Euna Lee, a Korean-American, and Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, who work for Current TV in California.

Treated well?

"The North has assured us that the detainees will be well treated," a US government spokesman, Robert Wood, told reporters.

"We have formally requested, through our protecting power in Pyongyang, the Swedish embassy, that the Swedish government be provided with consular access to these two Americans," Mr Wood said.

In Seoul, a South Korean daily, the JoongAng Ilbo, said on Tuesday that North Korean intelligence officials are questioning the journalists and would probably try to persuade them to confess to spying.

Sino-Korea Friendship Bridge over the Yanu River in Dandong
North Korea and China share an 880 mile (1,400 km) border

Quoting a South Korean intelligence source, the paper said the pair were transported to a top-security guest-house on the outskirts of Pyongyang a day after they were seized before dawn on 17 March along the border with China.

State Department officials said they do not know where the pair are being detained.

Diplomacy at work

"The US is aware of South Korean press stories reporting on South Korean sources claiming that the DPRK (North Korea) is investigating the two journalists for 'espionage'.

"We are in touch with the DPRK through various channels, and the only statement that the DPRK has made to us says only that the DPRK believes that the two journalists crossed the DPRK border illegally," Mr Wood said.

He has repeatedly said the State Department is trying to avoid commenting too much on the case in order to increase chances for diplomacy to obtain their release.

"I really don't want to go into much more detail, because we're trying to work this issue diplomatically and the less said from here, the better," he said. "I think it's just best right now, in terms of our interest in trying to, you know, make sure that we can get these people released."

North Korea map

The Swedish embassy in Pyongyang handles consular affairs involving American citizens as the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with the reclusive communist state.

A third US journalist, Current TV cameraman Mitch Koss, reportedly eluded North Korean border guards but was detained by Chinese border guards.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing that Mr Koss left the country on Tuesday.

Tensions between North Korea and the international community - particularly the US - have heightened since North Korea's announcement that it will launch a communications satellite between 4 and 8 April.

Analysts believe the satellite launch is actually a planned long-range missile test, and the US and its allies have called for it to be cancelled.



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