North Korea appears "seriously interested" in releasing two US jour­n­alists but first wants Washington to acknowledge what Pyong­yang sees as their "hostile acts", a US-based academic in Pyongyang said yesterday.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained in March near the North Korean border with China and sentenced last month to 12 years of hard labour for entering the country illegally and for "hostile acts". The two, who work for former US vice-president Al Gore's Current TV media group, were in the area to interview North Korean refugees.

Political scientist Park S Han said "responsible" North Korean officials told him the two journalists have not been sent to a prison labour camp but are being kept at a guesthouse in Pyongyang.

"I also think the fact that the sentence has not been carried out suggests that North Koreans are seriously interested in releasing them if the situation warrants," Park said. The North Koreans said the US government should offer "a remorseful acknowledgment" of the reporters' actions, according to Park. He said that would help resolve the issue, though cautioned it still may not fully guarantee their release.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said yesterday the reporters have expressed "great remorse for this incident". She called on Pyongyang to grant the two amnesty and allow them to quickly return home.