July 9, 2010 / 7:54 AM / 9 years ago

U.S. man in North Korean prison attempts suicide: report

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.”

North Korea has rejected U.S. calls for the release of Gomes 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 following the South’s conclusion that Pyongyang sunk one of its navy ships in March.

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

KCNA said the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which represents the United States as it does not have diplomatic ties with the North, had been informed of Gomes’ condition.

Impoverished North Korea, which denies any involvement in the South ship sinking, 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 programme, has typically released Americans a few months after their capture after trying to win concessions.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner

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