The two U.S. journalists sentenced to 12 years' hard labor in North Korea are not breaking rocks just yet, giving supporters hope they could be released.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for Al Gore's California-based Current TV network, are being kept in a North Korean guest house in Pyongyang, according to University of Georgia political scientist Han Park.
"I heard from North Korean officials that the American journalists were doing fine at a guest house in Pyongyang," Park told South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper. Park, originally from South Korea, arrived Thursday in Seoul following a trip to Pyongyang.
The two journalists were arrested by North Korean authorities on March 17 on the rogue nation's border while doing a story on refugees living in China. They were sentenced June 8 to 12 years in a hard labor camp. Park says that while North Korean officials are angry because Ling and Lee were working on a video critical of North Korea, it is a good sign that they're both in a guest house and not a prison camp.
"North Korea's move not to carry out the sentence suggests that it could release them through dialog with the United States and they could be set free at an early date, depending on the U.S. gesture," says Park.
Diplomatic talks between the two nations may not be so easy. The U.S. is currently trying to enforce United Nations sanctions on North Korea because the communist dictatorship tested nukes.
Park told South Korea's Yonhap news agency that the U.S. could easily spring Lee and Ling if they would issue a formal apology and promise that such actions would never be repeated. While this scenario seems highly unlikely, Park predicts Washington and Pyongyang will be speaking soon.
These latest developments came days after a 20-minute phone conversation between Lisa Ling and her jailed sister Laura, where Laura acknowledged that her only hope for freedom was a government pardon.