March 24, 2009 / 9:25 AM / 10 years ago

Two U.S. reporters moved to North Korean capital-paper

(Adds cameraman leaving China, paragraphs 8-10)

SEOUL, March 24 (Reuters) - Two U.S. journalists arrested last week by North Korean guards at the border with China have been moved to the capital Pyongyang and are being interrogated there, a newspaper said on Tuesday, quoting intelligence sources.

The arrest of the pair at the Tumen River came at a time of mounting tension on the Korean peninsula, with the North accusing the United States and South Korea of waging war exercises, while Pyongyang continued preparations to launch a long-range missile.

"We understand the two female reporters are staying at a guest house in the suburb of Pyongyang overseen by the Security Command (the North’s intelligence agency) and are being interrogated," the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper quoted an intelligence source as saying.

The two, who South Korean media said were named Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were arrested before dawn on March 17 and driven in separate cars the next day to Pyongyang, JoongAng Ilbo quoted intelligence officials as saying.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service could not immediately comment on the report.

The pair, who media sources say were working for U.S.-based online news company Current TV, probably crossed the river and were on the North Korean side at a point where the current narrowed in a secluded part of the river, the newspaper said.

A State Department official said Washington has contacted North Korean authorities about the two and was seeking their immediate release.

An American cameraman, Mitch Koss, and a Chinese guide who was with the three were detained by Chinese police, media said.

"The male American citizen involved in the case has left China," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters on Tuesday.

He did not comment on the status of the two reporters in North Korea.

A diplomatic source said the two reporters were on the frozen Tumen river, which runs along the eastern portion of the border with China, when they were taken by North Korean security guards.

The arrest has raised alarm in Washington because it took three months to secure the release of an American in 1996 after he was detained by North Korean guards when he crossed the Yalu River that also separates the North and China. (Reporting by Jack Kim; Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Paul Tait)





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