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North Korea court sentences alleged South Korean spies to hard labor for life

A court in North Korea is reported to have convicted two South Koreans accused of spying and undermining the state. The pair, who told visiting Western journalists they were guilty, were sentenced to hard labor for life.

Nordkorea Kim Kuk Gi Pressekonferenz in Pjöngjang

Kim Kuk Gi had been working as a missionary and was accused of taking bribes

North Korea's Supreme Court sentenced the two men to hard labor for life after they were convicted on state subversion and espionage charges, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

Officials arrested the pair, Kim Kuk Gi and Choe Chun Gil, in March, claiming they were working for the South's intelligence services while based in the Chinese city of Dandong. They were also accused of trying to topple the regime in Pyongyang.

North Korean officials presented the two to the media in March, and said they had been detained in September and December last year. Kim and Choe both admitted to espionage when visited by a team of journalists from the CNN news network

Choe, 56, said he had been working in China when he was headhunted by South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS), who wanted him to collect information from across the border.

Money to obtain travel plans

The report said that, three years later, Choe was arrested with a collection of boxes, one of which was said to contain material with potential military use.

The 61-year-old Kim said he had been working as a missionary and had been offered money to obtain travel plans of senior North Korean officials as well as samples of new North Korean currency so that it could be forged.

North Korean state media accused both men of running an "underground church" and spreading foreign information on USB sticks and SD memory cards.

Seoul confirmed that the men were South Korean citizens but strongly denied that they were spies and

demanded they be released

. The NIS dismissed the accusations as "groundless."

rc/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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