- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2010

UPDATED:

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 that Mr. Gomes had taught English in South Korea for about two years and that it is unclear why he would have gone to North Korea. She said he grew up in Boston and attended Bowdoin College in Maine.

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

North Korea 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 did not identify him at the time. U.S. officials said last week that Swedish diplomats in Pyongyang had access to an American in North Korean custody.

Mr. Gomes is the fourth American reported detained in communist North Korea on charges of illegal entry in the past year.

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 U.S. President Bill Clinton made a high-profile humanitarian visit to Pyongyang to negotiate their release.

On Christmas, 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 United States 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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