- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SEOUL | North Korea said Monday that it will put an American on trial for entering the communist country illegally.

State-run media identified him as 30-year-old Aijalon Mahli Gomes, of Boston, and said “his crime has been confirmed.” The brief dispatch from the Korean Central News Agency did not say when he would stand trial.

A spokeswoman for the man’s family in Boston, Thaleia Schlesinger, said Mr. Gomes had been teaching English in South Korea for about two years and that it was not clear why he would have gone to North Korea.

She said his family was going through a difficult time and is “praying for his speedy return home.”

North Korea had announced two months ago that an American was detained Jan. 25 for trespassing after crossing into the country from China and was under investigation, but had not identified him at the time.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States wants to make sure the detained American man is returned to the United States as soon as possible.

“We are concerned about his health and welfare. We are obviously concerned about whatever legal process he might face,” Mr. Crowley said, adding that the U.S. has concerns about North Korea’s lack of transparency.

Mr. Gomes would be the fourth American detained in communist North Korea on charges of illegal entry in the past year. It was not immediately clear why he crossed into North Korea.

Two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were arrested a year ago near the Chinese border and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegal entry and engaging in “hostile acts.” They were freed in August after former President Bill Clinton made a high-profile humanitarian visit to Pyongyang to negotiate their release.

On Christmas Day, American missionary Robert Park strode into North Korea from China on a self-proclaimed mission to draw attention to North Korea’s human rights record and to call for leader Kim Jong-il to step down. He was released last month after more than 40 days in custody.

Monday’s announcement comes as regional powers are pushing for North Korea, believed to have enough weaponized plutonium to make at least a half-dozen bombs, to rejoin international talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang abandoned an aid-for-disarmament pact and pulled out of the negotiations last year to protest criticism of a rocket launch widely decried as a violation of U.N. sanctions.

North Korea’s move to test a nuclear bomb weeks later prompted the U.N. Security Council to further tighten sanctions against the impoverished regime.

North Korea has pressed the U.S. for bilateral talks to discuss a peace treaty as part of any disarmament negotiations, citing the U.S. military presence on South Korean soil as a main reason for its drive to build nuclear weapons.

The two Koreas remain in a state of war, divided by a heavily fortified border, because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

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