North Korean guards 'detain US journalists'

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The Independent Online

North Korean security officials have detained two Korean-American journalists who were filming across the Tumen River from the Chinese side of the border, South Korean television reported today.

The report comes at a time of mounting tension on the Korean peninsula, with the North accusing the United States and South Korea of using joint military exercises as preparations to invade the isolated state.

The YTN channel quoted a South Korean government official as saying North Korean guards crossed the border into Chinese territory to arrest the two women on Tuesday after they ignored warnings to stop filming.

It said the women worked for an online news company based in California but gave no other details. South Korea's foreign ministry declined to confirm the report.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Beijing was investigating the report and declined to comment further.

YTN said a man was also with the pair from the same news organisation but managed to escape.

South Korea's Munhwa Ilbo evening newspaper said North Korean guards detained one US journalist near the Yalu River, quoting a diplomatic source in Seoul and a government official.

The Yalu river runs along the western portion of the border between North Korea and China. It runs into the Tumen river on the eastern side.

"It's difficult to comment on this matter because it involves a U.S. citizen, but our government is aware that a US journalist is in detention in the North," the senior government official was quoted as saying.

Another diplomatic source said the US State Department would be dealing with the case soon.

Tensions have escalated on the Korean peninsula in recent weeks.

North Korea has said it will launch a missile early in April as part of a space communications programme, but the United States says the launch is intended to test a rocket that could potentially carry a warhead as far as US territory.

North Korean Premier Kim Yong-il is visiting China, the nearest the impoverished state has to a major ally and a key source of economic aid.

China has avoided openly pressuring the North over its plans to launch the rocket.

In publicly reported comments to Kim, Chinese President Hu Jintao kept to that gentle approach, avoiding direct mention of the rocket issue.

"We hope all sides will take the broader perspective to appropriately resolve existing disputes," Hu told Kim, according to Chinese state radio news.