Page last updated at 02:37 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 03:37 UK

US man sentenced to hard labour in North Korea

Aijalon Mahli Gomes
Aijalon Mahli Gomes reportedly admitted his wrongdoing in court

North Korea has sentenced a US citizen to eight years' hard labour for illegally entering the country, state news agency KCNA has said.

The man, named as 30-year-old Aijalon Mahli Gomes, from Boston, admitted his wrongdoing in court, KCNA reported.

Gomes had worked as an English teacher in South Korea, and reportedly crossed the border from China on 25 January.

Swedish diplomats were allowed to attend the trial, as the US has no diplomatic presence in North Korea.

Gomes, described by colleagues as a devout Christian, was also fined 70 million won ($700,000; £460,000 at the official exchange rate). It is not clear why he entered North Korea.

Goodwill gesture?

Despite the jail sentence, analysts suggested Gomes could be freed before too long as Pyongyang tries to improve bilateral relations with the US.

"The North is not going to hold him for eight years," Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Seoul's Dongguk University told the AFP news agency.

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"It is likely to suspend the implementation of the sentence and expel him as a goodwill gesture toward the United States."

Gomes was the fourth American citizen to be accused of entering the country in the past year. In February, North Korea freed Robert Park, who had entered the country from China by walking over a frozen river.

He had reportedly wanted to highlight human rights issues in North Korea, but was said before his release to have admitted his "mistake".

Last year two US journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were also arrested by North Korea on the border with China.

They were sentenced to 12 years' hard labour but freed in August after four months in captivity, as part of a diplomatic mission spearheaded by former US President Bill Clinton.

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