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North Korea may spare US journalists from hard labor

But the two women sentenced to 12 years in prison still face awful conditions. Their whereabouts since last week remain unknown.

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Whenever the two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea go home, analysts doubt they'll emerge with tales from inside the sprawling gulag where 200,000 North Koreans are thought to be confined.

Those who have attempted to glean insights into North Korea's draconian prison system believe that Laura Ling and Euna Lee – each sentenced Monday to 12 years of "hard labor" – will serve in a conventional jail or a facility run by the national security agency.

"North Korea has four or five different kinds of correctional facilities," says Won Ki Choi, a longtime analyst of North Korean affairs, now based in Washington. A concentration camp – a gulag – is the last possibility."

Mr. Choi cites contacts inside North Korea saying that Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were being held in a "guest house" operated by the North's security agency after soldiers picked them up on March 17 on the Tumen River border with China.

Reporting on human rights

The women had been filming a documentary for Current TV, the Internet cable network of which former US vice president Al Gore is chairman.

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