North Korea Says Jailed American Attempted Suicide
Saturday, 10 July 2010

North Korea said Friday that an American serving eight years' hard labour for an illegal border crossing has tried to commit suicide and is being treated in hospital.

Aijalon Gomes was "driven by his strong guilty conscience, disappointment and despair at the US government that has not taken any measure for his freedom", the communist state's official news agency said.

The Swedish embassy, which represents US interests has visited the hospital, it said without giving further details.

The report came hours before the UN Security Council was expected to adopt a statement condemning the sinking of a South Korean warship, an incident which has sharply raised cross-border tensions.

North Korea on June 24 had threatened harsher punishment for Gomes unless Washington drops a campaign to censure it for the sinking.

South Korea and the United States, citing findings of a multinational investigation, accuse the North of blowing the corvette apart with a torpedo in March with the loss of 46 lives.

Pyongyang has angrily denied responsibility and threatened a "do or die" battle in response to any UN censure.

A joint US-South Korean naval exercise in response to the sinking was postponed pending UN action.

But Seoul's defence ministry said Friday the war games, which have sparked strong protests from China, would go ahead at an unspecified time.

"The joint exercise in the Yellow Sea is being planned because North Korea carried out an illegal provocation, the sinking of the Cheonan," said spokesman Won Tae-Jae.

The US military chief in South Korea told a seminar he feared further North Korean provocations in coming years.

"(Leader) Kim Jong-Il has said North Korea will be a great and powerful nation by 2012," Yonhap news agency quoted General Walter Sharp as saying.

Sharp said he believed the only way for Kim to "get to that point is through military provocations and threatening neighbours".

The draft Security Council statement set to be adopted later Friday US time will condemn the attack which led to the sinking. But it stops short of directly blaming the North for it, as Seoul and Washington had wanted.

Permanent council members China and Russia have not publicly accused the North of staging the attack but they signed on to the draft.

This notes the North's denials of involvement. But it expresses "deep concern" at the findings of the multinational probe implicating the North.

It "underscores the importance of preventing such further attacks or hostilities" against South Korea.

A Seoul foreign ministry official quoted by Yonhap expressed satisfaction with the draft, saying the council essentially condemned North Korea.

Gomes, a 30-year-old former English teacher in South Korea and reportedly a devout Christian, was arrested in January. He was sentenced in April and fined the equivalent of 700,000 dollars.

The North said two weeks ago it could never accept US requests to free Gomes under the current hostile situation "and there remains only the issue of what harsher punishment will be meted out to him".

South Korean analysts were mixed on the motive behind Friday's report.

Koh Yu-Hwan, of Seoul's Dongguk University, told Yonhap the North was prodding the US to initiate talks as part of a diplomatic outreach following the draft statement.

Yang Moo-Jin, of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, said the aim was only "to avoid misunderstandings that Gomes was hurt by mistreatment while in prison".

Gomes crossed into the North one month after US missionary Robert Park walked over a frozen border river on Christmas Day. A Seoul activist has said Gomes may have been inspired by Park's example.

Park was freed in February without standing trial.

The North Friday also proposed high-level military talks with the United States "to probe the truth" about the sinking.

Its military had earlier refused to deal with the US-led United Nations Command and had called for talks only with South Korean counterparts, a proposal rejected by Seoul.

In an apparent change of stance, the North called for working talks at the border truce village of Panmunjom next Tuesday to discuss possible general-level talks with the United States.


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