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American sentenced to 15 years hard labour by North Korea for alleged crimes against the state

Kenneth Bae charged with "committing crimes aimed at toppling the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with hostility towards it"

An American man, detained by North Korea since last November for unspecified crimes against the state, has been sentenced to 15 years in a labour camp.

Kenneth Bae (Pae Jun-ho), 44, was detained late last year in Rason a Special Economic Zone in North Korea's north-eastern region bordering China and Russia. He was leading a tour group of group of five Europeans at the time of his arrest.

Mr Bae was subsequently charged with "committing crimes aimed at toppling the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with hostility towards it".

Mr Bae, who it is thought lives in China, ran a travel company called Nation Tours and according to reports had made a number of trips to North Korea without incident.

North Korea has not revealed the details of the crime he is alleged to have committed, but said "his crimes were proved by evidence".

The sentencing of Mr Bae, described by friends as a devout Christian, comes amid signs of tentative diplomacy following weeks of rising tensions in the region.

North Korea had been warning of nuclear war and missile strikes, an angry response to UN sanctions for conducting a long-range rocket launch in December and a nuclear test in February, as well as US-South Korean military drills in South Korea.

The US state department has so far refused to comment on the situation but fears are that Pyongyang could use Bae as a bargaining chip as it seeks dialogue with Washington.

The incident is not the first time a US national has been detained by North Korea during tensions between the two countries.

In 2009, after Pyongyang's launch of an earlier long-range rocket and its second underground nuclear test, two American journalists were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after sneaking across the border from China.

Bae is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released.

The United States said later today that it plans to call on North Korea to grant amnesty to Kenneth Bae.