Thursday, March 19, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - North Korean guards detained two American journalists near the country’s border with China when they ignored orders to stop shooting video, South Korean media reports said Thursday.

The reporters, both women, were arrested Tuesday near the northern border and were being held in North Korea, the Yonhap news agency said, citing unnamed diplomatic sources. YTN television said the women were detained near the Tumen River in the far northeast.

The journalists were detained after ignoring soldiers’ orders to stop filming, the reports said. Yonhap said they were arrested in North Korea but YTN said the guards crossed into Chinese territory to arrest them.

Both women were working for online media, the reports said, with YTN identifying one of the women as a Korean American from California with the surname Park.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul had no information Thursday about the reported arrests, spokesman Aaron Tarver said. In Washington, State Department officials were unavailable for comment overnight.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young told reporters he had no comment.

Earlier Thursday, the Munwha Ilbo newspaper said a female reporter was detained Tuesday in the border region along the Yalu River dividing China and North Korea. The report cited unnamed diplomatic sources in Seoul. The paper identified her as a reporter named “Ming” working for a U.S. television station.

Both the Tumen and Yalu rivers are frequent crossing points for both trade and the growing number of North Koreans seeking to escape through the porous border. The famine in North Korea and an economic boom in China have proved an attractive combination, with tens of thousands of North Koreans crossing into China in search of food, medicines, jobs or escape.

The Chinese government complains about the incidents but most incursions are dealt with quietly if at all. Chinese living on the border say North Korean spies have long acted with impunity when policing or trying to retrieve their own people.

Foreign journalists standing on the Chinese side of the border are often jeered at by North Korean border guards, some brandishing rifles just steps away.

South Korean missionaries assisting North Korean refugees have also been at risk. In 2000, the Rev. Kim Dong-shik was kidnapped from the Chinese border city of Yanbian and taken to North Korea.

North Korea’s premier Kim Yong Il has been holding discussions with senior Chinese government officials in Beijing this week, and was meeting Premier Wen Jiabao later Thursday.

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