Clinton says all regret journalists' North Korea incident

WASHINGTON Fri Jul 10, 2009 12:18pm EDT

A conservative protester holds a placard with pictures of U.S. journalists Euna Lee (L) and Laura Ling, both detained by North Korea, during an anti-North Korea rally denouncing the North's cyber attacks and demanding a release of the U.S. journalists, at a park in Seoul July 10, 2009. One of two U.S. journalists detained in North Korea and accused of illegally entering the country has told her sister they broke the law, prompting the United States on Thursday to urge Pyongyang to grant them amnesty. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

A conservative protester holds a placard with pictures of U.S. journalists Euna Lee (L) and Laura Ling, both detained by North Korea, during an anti-North Korea rally denouncing the North's cyber attacks and demanding a release of the U.S. journalists, at a park in Seoul July 10, 2009. One of two U.S. journalists detained in North Korea and accused of illegally entering the country has told her sister they broke the law, prompting the United States on Thursday to urge Pyongyang to grant them amnesty.

Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday said "everyone is very sorry" about an incident that resulted in North Korea detaining two U.S. journalists on accusations of illegally entering the country.

She also repeated the hope initially expressed by the State Department on Thursday that the two be granted amnesty, which was the first time that the U.S. government had acknowledged the possibility the two women committed an offense.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee of the U.S. media group Current TV, were arrested in March near the China-North Korea border while reporting on the trafficking of women. They were convicted of "great crimes" in June and sentenced to 12 years hard labor.

Asked about the case by a State Department worker, Clinton sighed and said: "The two journalists and their families have expressed great remorse for this incident and I think everyone is very sorry that it happened.

"What we hope for now is that these two young women would be granted amnesty through the North Korean system and be allowed to return home to their families as soon as possible," she said.

Lisa Ling told Sacramento, California, NBC affiliate KCRA that her sister Laura told her by telephone on Tuesday that she and colleague Lee had violated North Korean law and needed help from the U.S. government to secure amnesty.

Before Thursday, the State Department had called for their release on humanitarian grounds and had not acknowledged the possibility of any wrongdoing.

U.S. officials fear the reclusive communist state hopes to use the two women, who worked for a media group co-founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, as leverage as it resists international pressure to halt its nuclear arms program.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

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