Two American journalists captured by North Korea

According to Pyongyang, North Korea has two American journalists in custody after allegedly attempting to enter the DPRK illegally.  Laura Ling and Euna Lee apparently were in the Tumen region, where refugees flee from the oppressive Kim Jong-Il regime into somewhat less oppressive China.  The international incident puts pressure on the new administration to resolve the situation and get the two women back:

North Korea on Saturday confirmed that it had detained two American journalists for illegally entering the country from China earlier this week and said their case was under investigation.

The US State Department had expressed concern over the fate of the two women, who are believed to have been taken into custody by border guards patrolling the Tumen river, a common escape route for those fleeing the North.

Their detention comes as tensions run high in the region over Pyongyang‘s plans to launch what it says is a communications satellite early next month, which the United States and its allies say is really a disguised missile test.

“Two Americans were detained on March 17 while illegally intruding into the territory of the DPRK by crossing the DPRK-China border,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a three-line dispatch.

According to people in the area, Ling and Lee were working on an in-depth story about North Koreans who successfully fled across the border.  They probably would have wanted a close-up look at the Tumen River and the passage.  Did they lose their bearings and wander into the DPRK?  It seems unlikely that the North Koreans would have crossed the border themselves to capture the two women.

This comes at a particularly sensitive time for the Obama administration.  They have already protested the upcoming missile launch from North Korea, which Kim insists is a satellite but which the US and Japan believe is a long-range missile test.  Japan has threatened to shoot it down if it goes up, and the US has also warned Kim about a military response to the launch.  Ling and Lee give Kim an extra bargaining chip, and the media will certainly make it a very public issue.

As the AFP notes, Kim usually coughs up captured Americans with a minimal amount of diplomatic stroking.  In this case, though, he can use the two detainees to measure the Obama administration’s toughness.  Unless Hillary shows up with a reset button.