SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea has not yet sent two convicted U.S. journalists to a prison labor camp in a possible attempt to seek talks with Washington on their release, a scholar who visited the North said in an interview published Friday.
Laura Ling and Euna lee, who work for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV media group, are being kept at guest house in the North Korean capital and have not yet been sent to a prison camp as called for in their sentences, University of Georgia political scientist Han Park said.
"I heard from North Korean officials that the American journalists were doing fine at a guest house in Pyongyang," Park told South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper. Park, originally from South Korea, arrived Thursday in Seoul following a trip to Pyongyang.
Ling and Lee were detained near the North Korean border with China and were sentenced last month for to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally and for "hostile acts."
Park said North Korean officials were angry at the journalists for trying to produce a program critical of North Korea. But Park said the issue could be resolved.
A South Korean who helped organize the journalists' reporting trip to China, the Rev. Chun Ki-won, said in April that the women traveled to the border region with North Korea to interview women and children who had fled the impoverished country.
"North Korea's move not to carry out the sentence suggests that it could release them through a dialogue with the United States and they could be set free at an early date, depending on the U.S. gesture," Park said.
Repeated calls to his hotel in Seoul went unanswered.
Park's comments came days after Laura Ling told her sister, journalist Lisa Ling, during a 20-minute telephone call that a government pardon is their only hope for freedom.
In California, Lisa Ling said Thursday that her sister called Tuesday to say she and Lee had broken the law in North Korea when they were captured in March.
Their detention comes as the U.S. is moving to enforce U.N. as well as its own sanctions against the communist regime for its May 25 nuclear test. The North also fired seven ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations.