Page last updated at 13:18 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 14:18 UK

Reporters 'admit' N Korea entry

Journalists Euna Lee (L) and Laura Ling
The reporters were arrested while working on the China-N Korea border

Two US journalists who were jailed last week in North Korea have admitted entering the country illegally, according to state news agency KCNA.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee "admitted and accepted" their sentences, KCNA said.

The two women were given jail terms of 12 years' hard labour, after being found guilty of crossing into North Korea from the Chinese border in March.

KCNA also said they had admitted getting footage for a "smear campaign" about North Korea's human rights.

The women's families have always claimed that Lee, 36, and Ling, 32, had no intention of crossing into North Korea.

They fear the two reporters may become political pawns in negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, amid growing tensions over North Korea's nuclear programme and recent missile tests.

'Criminal acts'

Euna Lee, a Korean-American, and Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, were arrested by North Korean guards on 17 March while filming a video about refugees for California-based internet broadcaster Current TV.

They were detained in Pyongyang, and on 8 June they were found guilty of "hostile acts" and illegal entry into North Korea.

"The accused admitted that what they did were criminal acts... prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system of the DPRK [North Korea]," KCNA said on Tuesday, giving its first details about the women's alleged crimes.

The news agency added that the pair had crossed the border "for the purpose of making animation files to be used for an anti-DPRK smear campaign over its human rights issue".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the charges against the two women as "baseless". She is thought to be considering sending an envoy to try to negotiate their release.

But supporters of Ling and Lee are concerned that their plight will be exacerbated by worsening relations between North Korea and the US.

Bargaining chips?

Tensions have increased in the region since North Korea conducted a nuclear test in May and then test-fired several missiles. Another long-range missile test is believed to be planned for later this month.

Pyongyang announced on Saturday that it would start enriching uranium and use all its plutonium to make nuclear weapons in response to tighter UN sanctions passed on Friday.

The new UN sanctions include the inspection of ships suspected of taking banned cargo to and from North Korea, a wider ban on arms sales and further measures to cut Pyongyang's access to international financial services.

There are fears Lee and Ling will be used by North Korea as bargaining chips to try to win concessions from Washington, such as humanitarian aid or direct talks.

The US has so far said negotiations can only be held under the currently-stalled six-party talks on nuclear disarmament, which also include South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The KCNA report on the two journalists was released just hours before South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was due to hold talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington.

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