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U.S. man in N. Korean prison attempts suicide: KCNA

SEOUL (Reuters) - An American being held in North Korea has attempted suicide out of frustration and guilt, the reclusive country’s state media said on Friday.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes, 30, is serving a sentence of eight years hard labor after being convicted in April of illegally entering the country.

“Driven by his strong guilty conscience, disappointment and despair at the U.S. government that has not taken any measure for his freedom, he attempted to commit suicide,” the North’s KCNA news agency said.

“He is now given first-aid treatment at a hospital.”

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said diplomats from Sweden -- which represents the United States in North Korea in the absence of formal diplomatic ties -- had visited Gomes. But U.S. officials declined to provide details on his condition.

“We reiterate our urge for the North Korean government to release Mr Gomes on humanitarian grounds,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

North Korea has rejected calls for Gomes’ release and said last month that it was considering how to make his punishment even harsher under the rules of war, as it was in a state of war with the United States.

The case has further strained ties between the North and the United States as Washington backed Seoul’s drive for strong punitive measures at the United Nations over the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in March.

The South blames North Korea for the sinking but Pyongyang denies any involvement.

The Security Council adopted a statement condemning the ship’s sinking without explicitly blaming the North, in a setback for Seoul’s attempt to hold Pyongyang accountable.

Impoverished North Korea has in the past used detained American citizens as bargaining chips.

Gomes had been teaching English in Seoul for about two years before making the trip to North Korea in January. He was also active in Protestant churches, his colleagues said.

He likely crossed into North Korea in support of U.S. Christian missionary Robert Park, who entered the North on Christmas Day to raise awareness about its human rights abuses, according to an activist who helped arrange Park’s trip.

Park was detained and eventually released.

In previous cases, North Korea, the focus of multinational talks aimed at reining in its nuclear weapons program, has typically released Americans a few months after their capture after trying to win concessions.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner

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