North Korea's Central Court put American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee on trial at 3 p.m. on Thursday, the official KCNA news agency said.
This is the first time American citizens have stood trial in a North Korean court, and it is unprecedented for the North to announce the time of trial. The date was announced on May 14. "It seems that the North is attempting to take advantage of this incident for its negotiations with the U.S.," a South Korean government official speculated.
The verdict could become a new variable in Washington-Pyongyang relations, which are icy after North Korea's nuclear test on May 25 and moves to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The journalists are charged with "illegal entry" and "hostile acts" against North Korea, which could put them into jail for up to 10 years under the country's criminal code. The North on March 31 said the charges were supported "by evidence and their own testimonies."
North Korea has recently taken a relatively lenient attitude by allowing a Swedish Embassy official in Pyongyang to meet them and put their families in the U.S. on the phone to talk with them. Under the circumstances, some people predict that after the court proceedings a senior U.S. official will visit North Korea and bring them back. There is speculation that former U.S. vice president Al Gore, the founder of the TV channel the two women work for, could visit Pyongyang.