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Reporters describe N Korea ordeal

2 September 09 09:15 GMT

Two US journalists jailed for illegally entering North Korea have described their ordeal for the first time.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee admitted entering North Korea for a short time, but said they were on the Chinese side of the border when they were arrested.

After their arrest the pair spent more than four months in detention before being freed at the intervention of former US President Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile a high-level North Korean official is visiting Beijing for talks.

The trip, to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations, raises hopes that stalled six-party discussions on Pyongyang's nuclear programme might soon be back on the agenda.

North Korea abandoned the talks in April, following its nuclear and missile tests which prompted tough UN sanctions, but has since made a number of conciliatory moves that appear to indicate a softening of its position.

'Dragged forcibly'

The lengthy account published by Ms Ling and Ms Lee provides the most thorough account to date of the circumstances surrounding their detention.

In a statement posted on the website of their employers, Current TV, the two women said North Korean troops had abducted them shortly after they had briefly crossed the border into North Korea on 17 March.

"We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us," said the women, who had been working on a story about human trafficking in the region.

"We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers.

"They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained."

The women said although there were no signs marking China's frontier with North Korea, they were aware that they were heading towards the border crossing as they moved on foot across the frozen Tumen River.

"Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling.

"To this day, we still don't know if we were lured into a trap," they added.

After their capture, Ms Lee and Ms Ling were sentenced to 12 years hard labour for trespassing and "hostile acts" against North Korea, but they were pardoned last month after Mr Clinton visited Pyongyang on their behalf.

They said parts of their captivity were "painful", but their experiences "pale when compared to the hardship facing so many people living in North Korea or as illegal immigrants in China".

Hotline restored

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, and was scheduled to meet Chinese foreign ministry officials later in the day.

"The two sides will exchange views on bilateral relations as well as other major issues of common interest," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

She gave no further details, but analysts suggest that the resumption of nuclear discussions could be one of the items on the agenda during the talks.

There have been numerous signs of a thaw in Pyongyang's relations with the international community in recent weeks.

A hotline between North and South Korea - closed down since May - has just been restored, and normal border traffic between the two Koreas resumed on Tuesday.

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