"The Central Court of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea decided to try the American journalists on June 4 according to the indictment of the competent organ," it said.

'Hostile acts'

Ling, left, and Lee are accused of "hostile acts" and could face up to 10 years in jail [EPA]
North Korea previously said they would go on trial for "hostile acts" and for illegally entering the country, adding that the trial would be held "on the basis of the confirmed crimes committed by them".

The case coincides with growing tensions between North Korea and the United States, after Pyongyang's controversial April 5 rocket launch which it says placed an experimental satellite in orbit.

The US has said it believes the launch was cover for a test of a long-range missile.

North Korea has pulled out of six-party talks aimed at reining in its nuclear capabilities, and has ruled out talking to the current US administration, saying its "hostile policy" is no better than the previous administration of George Bush.

The US, which has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and no embassy in the country, says it has been in touch with Pyongyang through various channels to secure the release of the two women.

Sweden's ambassador to North Korea, who has been acting on behalf of the US, last met the two women on March 30.

Calls for release

International rights and media freedom groups have urged the North to release the two journalists.

Reporters Without Borders has said they face up to 10 years of forced labour if convicted of "hostile acts".

Analysts say the North faces a sharp rebuke from the US if it keeps the pair in detention.

But it may be willing to risk further isolation if it feels it can gain bargaining leverage, Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University, said.

"The North now has higher expectation of the US showing some sort of response, such as a visit of a high-level envoy to Pyongyang," he added.

Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, told the AFP news agency that Pyongyang was likely to hand down a "severe punishment" for the journalists and that their release "will depend on future negotiations with the US".