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US asks N. Korea to free American

SEOUL, South Korea — The United States said Thursday that North Korea should immediately release a U.S. citizen who was sentenced this week to 15 years of hard labor, setting up a potential new source of confrontation between the two countries that could aggravate tensions that are still high over North Korea’s nuclear war threats.

A State Department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said the Obama administration had “longstanding concerns about the lack of transparency and due process in the North Korean legal system.” Ventrell said the administration wanted Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced Tuesday on charges of committing hostile acts, to be granted “amnesty and immediate release.”

Ventrell’s statement signaled that the administration was not prepared, at least not now, to seek Bae’s release through a high-profile mission to North Korea, as it has done twice when Americans were held by North Korean authorities essentially as hostages to gain concessions from the United States.

Analysts said a U.S. diplomatic mission to secure Bae’s release could easily be used by the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, as an example of Washington’s capitulation and an opportunity to burnish his profile as a tough anti-American strategist. But by taking the tougher approach, the Obama administration is assuming the risk that one of its citizens will be incarcerated indefinitely.

The sentencing comes at a time of high tension between the North and the United States over the North’s nuclear program, and it was handed down the same day that joint U.S.-South Korean military drills ended. With the end of the drills, some analysts have said, North Korea might tone down its bellicosity and shift its focus toward drawing Washington back to the negotiating table — using, among other things, Bae’s plight as bait.

—Choe Sang-Hu

Shoves where China meets India

NEW DELHI — The disputed border region between India and China attracts troops from both countries, but two weeks ago the Chinese sent an unusual number of military patrols into the mountains of Ladakh, a remote high-altitude desert at the northern tip of India.

Two Chinese patrols came on foot, two more arrived in military vehicles, and a Chinese helicopter flew overhead. With all the activity, the Indian authorities failed to notice until the next morning that about 30 Chinese soldiers had pitched three tents in an area both countries claim.

Indian military officials protested. The Chinese stayed put. India protested again. The Chinese, who had with them a few high-altitude guard dogs, responded by erecting two more tents and raising a sign saying, in English, “You are in Chinese side.”

As the dispute enters its third week, alarm in the Indian capital is growing. At a Thursday news briefing, Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said, “There is no doubt that in the entire country this is a matter of concern.”

—Gardiner Harris and Edward Wong, The New York Times