SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea has commended two soldiers who apprehended a pair of U.S. journalists earlier this year along the country's border with China, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported yesterday.

Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, captured in March while reporting a story on North Korean defectors, were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for trespassing and "hostile acts" against North Korea. They were held in a Pyongyang guesthouse until the North pardoned them in early August after a landmark trip by former President Bill Clinton.

After their release, Ling and Lee, who had been reporting for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV, wrote that they briefly crossed into the North early on March 17 but were "violently dragged" back from Chinese soil by two North Korean border guards. Their producer, Mitch Koss, and a guide escaped by outrunning the guards, they said.

The two soldiers appeared in a North Korean state television program broadcast yesterday to mark the 18th anniversary of leader Kim Jong Il's assumption of command of the country's army, Yonhap reported. The program's anchor said Kim had given them an award for apprehending Ling and Lee and had also given them special leave, according to Yonhap.

The soldiers said that several people had crossed the frozen Tumen River into North Korea on March 17 and took photos, Yonhap reported. They said they had overpowered them at gunpoint, believing they had entered the North with hostile intent.

Son Yong Ho, one of the soldiers, said he received a hero's welcome when he later arrived in his hometown, according to Yonhap.