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Journalists Held at N. Korea Guest House

North Korea has delayed sending two convicted U.S. journalists to a prison labor camp, in a possible attempt to seek talks with Washington on their release, a scholar who visited the North said in an interview published Friday.

Laura Ling and Euna lee, who work for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV media group, are being kept at guest house in the North Korean capital and have not yet been sent to a prison camp as called for in their sentences, University of Georgia political scientist Han Park said.

"I heard from North Korean officials that the American journalists were doing fine at a guest house in Pyongyang," Park told South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper. Park, originally from South Korea, arrived Thursday in Seoul following a trip to Pyongyang.

Ling and Lee were detained near the North Korean border with China and were sentenced last month to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally and for "hostile acts."

Park said North Korean officials were angry at the journalists for trying to produce a program critical of North Korea.

A South Korean who helped organize the journalists' reporting trip to China, the Rev. Chun Ki-won, said in April that the women traveled to the border region with North Korea to interview women and children who had fled the impoverished country.

"North Korea's move not to carry out the sentence suggests that it could release them through a dialogue with the United States and they could be set free at an early date, depending on the U.S. gesture," Park said.

Separately, Park told South Korea's Yonhap news agency that the issue of the journalists could be resolved if the U.S. government offers an official apology over their hostile acts and promises that such things won't happen again.

He also predicted that Washington and Pyongyang could hold a dialogue soon over the journalists' release and their return to the U.S., according to Yonhap.

No timeframe for a possible meeting was given, and officials in Washington could not immediately be reached to comment on the likelihood of such discussions taking place.

His comments came days after Laura Ling told her sister, journalist Lisa Ling, during a 20-minute telephone call that a government pardon is their only hope for freedom.

In California, Lisa Ling said Thursday that her sister called Tuesday to say she and Lee had broken the law in North Korea when they were captured in March.

Their detention comes as the U.S. is moving to enforce U.N. as well as its own sanctions against the communist regime for its May 25 nuclear test. The North also fired seven ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations.