Friday, June 12, 2009

No hard labor for journalists Ling and Lee?

Donald Kirk writing in the Christian Science Monitor casts doubt that Laura Ling and Euna Lee will actually be doing hard labor, despite the allusion to this term in the brief announcement carried by Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency:

Whenever the two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea go home, analysts doubt they'll emerge with tales from inside the sprawling gulag where 200,000 North Koreans are thought to be confined. [More likely they] will serve in a conventional jail or a facility run by the national security agency.

"North Korea has four or five different kinds of correctional facilities," says Won Ki Choi, a longtime analyst of North Korean affairs, now based in Washington. A concentration camp - a gulag - is the last possibility."

Mr. Choi cites contacts inside North Korea saying that Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were being held in a "guest house" operated by the North's security agency after soldiers picked them up on March 17 on the Tumen River border with China.

"North Korea thinks these journalists are very valuable," Choi says. "Maybe they go from their four- or five-star state guest house to a one-star facility. Otherwise, when they get out they will give a big news conference and say how badly they were treated. North Korea is not that foolish."

Analysts agree North Korea is not likely to subject the women to the horrors of life in a gulag, despite the allusion to "hard labor" in the brief announcement carried by Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency.

Still, they believe Lee and Ling face a terrible existence while remaining in the North as pawns in a worsening confrontation between North Korea and the US.

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