Lee, a Korean-American, and Ling, a Chinese-American, were arrested March 17 along the narrow Tumen River, which marks the border with China. They were working on a story about refugees fleeing North Korea.
The Telegraph reported:
- The Korean Central News Agency, an official Pyongyang news agency, said that a "competent organ of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea's official title) had concluded the investigation into the journalists of the United States."
It added: "The organ formally decided to refer them to a trial on the basis of the confirmed crimes committed by them". If found guilty, the pair face up to five years in prison, according to North Korean experts in South Korea. The two women could also face spying charges.
"This means that Pyongyang will actively use them as playing cards to put pressure on Washington to engage in direct negotiations with the North," said Paik Hak-Soon, of the Sejong Institute, a think tank.
He added that the announcement could be linked to the firm line taken against North Korea by the UN Security Council earlier this month. Under pressure from the US, both China and Russia, who have traditionally been sympathetic to Pyongyang, both signed a rebuke to North Korea for illegally launching a missile. Further sanctions could now be enforced against the rogue state.
At right is an April 2 AP photo of South Korean protesters who shouted slogans as they held pictures of Ling, Lee, and North leader Kim Jong Il, background left, during a rally against North Korea in Seoul, South Korea.