March 22, 2010 / 11:22 AM / 9 years ago

North Korea to try U.S. man for illegal entry

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Monday it will put a 30-year-old U.S. man on trial for illegally entering the country.

The man is likely the U.S. citizen North Korea has held since January after he supposedly entered the reclusive state from China, South Korean government officials told local media.

North Korea identified the man as Aijalon Mahli Gomes, saying he was from Boston. His “crime has been confirmed,” its official KCNA news agency said without elaborating.

In Washington, the State Department said it had concerns over the man’s health and welfare, as well as over whatever legal process he might face in North Korea.

“We continue to press for appropriate consular access, full rights under North Korean law. But most importantly we want to make sure that as soon as possible he is returned to the United States,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a news briefing.

North Korea has used detained American citizens as bargaining chips with the United States. The trial announcement comes as Washington has been putting pressure on Pyongyang to end its yearlong boycott of nuclear disarmament-for-aid talks.

In previous cases, North Korea has typically released Americans a few months after their capture.

Earlier this month, North Korea allowed diplomats from Sweden, which represents U.S. interests in the state with which Washington does not have formal diplomatic ties, to visit the U.S. citizen detained since the start of the year.

The United States has provided few details about the case.

South Korean news reports have said the border-crosser entered communist North Korea because he no longer wanted to live in the capitalist world.

North Korea in February released a U.S. religious activist it had held since December who admitted to illegally entering the country to raise awareness about its human rights abuses.

Last year, it convicted two U.S. journalists who entered the country to several years of hard labor, but released them after a few months in captivity when former U.S. President Bill Clinton went to Pyongyang to secure their freedom.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Seoul, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Andrew Quinn in Washington; Editing by Alex Richardson and Will Dunham

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