SEOUL, South Korea — An American detained for nearly six months in North Korea has been sentenced to 15 years of labor for crimes against the state, the North’s state media said Thursday, a development that further complicates already strained ties between Pyongyang and Washington.
The sentencing of Kenneth Bae, described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, comes amid signs of tentative diplomacy following weeks of rising tensions in the region. North Korea had been warning of nuclear war and missile strikes, an angry response to U.N. sanctions for conducting a long-range rocket launch in December and a nuclear test in February, as well as U.S.-South Korean military drills in South Korea.
Analysts say Pyongyang could use Bae as a bargaining chip as it seeks dialogue with Washington.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department had no immediate comment. It’s not the first time an American has been arrested and sentenced to labor during a nuclear standoff.
In 2009, after Pyongyang’s launch of an earlier long-range rocket and its second underground nuclear test, two American journalists were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after sneaking across the border from China.