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North Korea to try Boston man for illegal entry

By Stefanie Geisler
Globe Correspondent / March 23, 2010

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A Boston man will stand trial in North Korea for allegedly entering the country illegally, officials said yesterday.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes, 30, was identified yesterday by state-run media in North Korea as the fourth US citizen detained for illegal entry in the past year. A trial date was not provided.

It is unclear why Gomes, who had been teaching English in South Korea for about two years, would have crossed into North Korea, the family’s spokeswoman said.

“The family has no further comment, other than to say they’re praying for him and they’re hoping for his speedy return home,’’ said Thaleia Schlesinger.

Gomes grew up in Boston. He attended Bowdoin College in Maine, graduating in 2001 with a degree in English, school spokesman Doug Boxer-Cook said. Gomes worked as a resident assistant in a Bowdoin dormitory.

Two months ago, North Korea announced it had detained an American Jan. 25 for trespassing. The American, who was accused of entering the country from China, was not identified at the time.

“We are concerned about his health and welfare,’’ US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told the Associated Press. “We are obviously concerned about whatever legal process he might face.’’

Crowley added the US is concerned about North Korea’s “lack of transparency.’’

In the past year, North Korea has detained three other Americans for allegedly entering the country illegally.

Two journalists were arrested near the Chinese border last March. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor on charges of illegal entry and engaging in hostile acts. Bill Clinton, the former president, visited Pyongyang and negotiated their release in August.

In December, American missionary Robert Park crossed into North Korea from China, attempting to call for the resignation of leader Kim Jong Il. Park served more than 40 days in custody. He was released last month.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.