North Korea has delayed sending two convicted U.S. journalists to a prison labor camp, in a possible attempt to seek talks with Washington on their release, a scholar who visited the North said in an interview published Friday.
Laura Ling and Euna lee, who work for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV media group, are being kept at guest house in the North Korean capital and have not yet been sent to a prison camp as called for in their sentences, University of Georgia political scientist Han Park said.
Lee's sister told supporters at a rally in San Francisco Thursday that she talked to her sister a couple days ago.
"She lost 15 pounds because of stress but said she is getting better and will try to eat well." Jina Lee said. "She will go to jail as soon as she recovers."
Jina Lee says her sister is sounds weak and is pleading for help from the U.S. government.
"Euna and Laura are really scared and concerned about going to jail." Jina Lee said, "They want to come home more than anyone."
Ling and Lee were detained near the North Korean border with China and were sentenced last month to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally and for "hostile acts."
"North Korea's move not to carry out the sentence suggests that it could release them through a dialogue with the United States and they could be set free at an early date, depending on the U.S. gesture," Han Park said.
In California, Lisa Ling said Thursday that her sister called Tuesday to say she and Lee had broken the law in North Korea when they were captured in March.
Park told South Korea's Yonhap news agency that the issue of the journalists could be resolved if the U.S. government offers an official apology over their hostile acts and promises that such things won't happen again.
Park said North Korean officials were angry at the journalists for trying to produce a program critical of North Korea.
Meanwhile, supporters want to make sure Ling and Lee know they have not been forgotten. They launched postcard campaign, sending hundreds of notes to the pair in North Korea, hoping words from home will lift their fading spirits.
Ling's friends say based on phone conversations with the journalists, they believe the pair is receiving mail and that hearing about gatherings in their honor seems to give them hope.