Two American journalists seized by North Korean border guards are facing "intense interrogation" in Pyongyang for alleged espionage after illegally crossing into the country from China, a report said Tuesday.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists working for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV, were at a guesthouse in Pyongyang's outskirts run by North Korean military intelligence, Korea's English-language newspaper JoongAng Ilbo said, citing an unidentified South Korean intelligence official.
The report provided first word of the women's whereabouts since they disappeared March 17 during a trip to the border near North Korea's far northwest. A colleague detained on the Chinese side left China on Tuesday.
South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, and the Unification Ministry said they could not confirm the details, reportedly obtained using "human intelligence" -- sources on the ground.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood called the matter "extremely sensitive" and said North Korea has assured U.S. officials the journalists will be treated well. He said the U.S., which has no official diplomatic presence in North Korea, has asked Swedish diplomats there to request access to the women.
If convicted of espionage, the women face at least five years in prison under North Korean law, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.
In Pyongyang, investigators were poring over the two American journalists' notebooks, videotapes and cameras amid allegations they "illegally intruded" into North Korean territory and were spying on the regime's military facilities, JoongAng Ilbo said.
JoongAng Ilbo noted that while an espionage conviction could bring five years in prison, conviction on charges of illegally crossing the border and spying on the North's military facilities could draw more than 20 years for each woman.