April 7, 2010 / 1:36 AM / in 10 years

North Korea sentences U.S. man to 8 years hard labour

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Wednesday it had sentenced an American man to eight years of hard labour for illegally entering the country, a decision that could further strain ties with Washington.

North Korea has previously used detained American citizens as bargaining chips and the announcement comes as the United States has been putting pressure on North Korea to return to stalled international nuclear disarmament talks.

Last month, the North said it was putting on trial 30-year-old Aijalon Mahli Gomes, from Boston, who entered the reclusive state in January.

“His guilt was confirmed according to the relevant articles of the criminal code of the DPRK (North Korea) at the trial,” KCNA said.

“The accused admitted all the facts which had been put under accusation. The presence of representatives of the Swedish embassy here to witness the trial was allowed as an exception at the request of the Swedish side protecting the U.S. interests,” KCNA said.

The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment. Washington does not have formal diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Gomes had been teaching English in Seoul for about two years before making the trip to North Korea. 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, said an activist who helped arrange Park’s trip.

Park was released in February after the North’s official media said he confessed to his crimes.

In previous cases, North Korea has typically released Americans a few months after their capture after trying to win concessions from Washington.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz, Christine Kim and Yoo Choonsik; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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