PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea announced Saturday that an American detained for nearly six months is being tried in the Supreme Court on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, a crime that could draw the death penalty if he is convicted.

The case involving Kenneth Bae, who has been in North Korean custody since early November, further complicates already fraught relations between Pyongyang and Washington following weeks of heightened rhetoric and tensions.

The trial mirrors a similar situation in 2009, when the U.S. and North Korea were locked in a standoff over Pyongyang's decision to launch a long-range rocket and conduct an underground nuclear test. At the time, North Korea had custody of two American journalists, whose eventual release after being sentenced to 12 years of hard labor paved the way for diplomacy following months of tensions.

Bae was arrested in early November in Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea's far northeastern region bordering China and Russia, according to official state media. In North Korean dispatches, Bae, a Korean American, is called Pae Jun Ho, the North Korean spelling of his Korean name.

The exact nature of his alleged crimes has not been revealed, but North Korea accuses Bae, described as a tour operator, of seeking to overthrow North Korea's leadership.

"In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it," the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Saturday. "His crimes were proved by evidence. He will soon be taken to the Supreme Court of the DPRK to face judgment."

DPRK is the acronym for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. No timing for the verdict issued at the austere Supreme Court in Pyongyang was given.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. government is "aware of reports that a U.S. citizen will face trial in North Korea" and that officials from the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang had visited Bae on Friday. She said she had no other information to share.

Because Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations, the Swedish Embassy in North Korea represents the United States in legal proceedings.

Friends and colleagues described Bae as a devout Christian from Washington state but based in the Chinese border city of Dalian who traveled frequently to North Korea to feed the country's orphans.

At least three other Americans detained in recent years also have been devout Christians. While North Korea's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the regime.

Under North Korea's criminal code, crimes against the state can draw life imprisonment or the death sentence.

In 2009, American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced to hard labor for trespassing and unspecified hostile acts after being arrested near the border with China and held for four months.

They were freed later that year to former President Bill Clinton, who flew to Pyongyang to negotiate their release in a visit that then-leader Kim Jong Il treated as a diplomatic coup.

Including Ling and Lee, Bae is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released.

"For North Korea, Bae is a bargaining chip in dealing with the U.S.," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea. "The North will use him in a way that helps bring the U.S. to talks when the mood slowly turns toward dialogue."

As in 2009, Pyongyang is locked in a standoff with the Obama administration over North Korea's drive to build nuclear weapons.

Washington has led the campaign to punish Pyongyang for launching a long-range rocket in December and carrying out a nuclear test, its third, in February.

North Korea claims the need to build atomic weapons to defend itself against the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea and over the past two months has been holding joint military drills with South Korea that have included nuclear-capable stealth bombers and fighter jets.

Diplomats from China, South Korea, the U.S., Japan and Russia have been conferring in recent weeks to try to bring down the rhetoric and find a way to rein in Pyongyang before a miscalculation in the region sparks real warfare.

South Korean defense officials said earlier in the month that North Korea had moved a medium-range missile designed to strike U.S. territory to its east coast.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the three-year Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

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Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee in Pyongyang; Sam Kim and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and Tom Strong in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Lee, AP's Korea bureau chief, at and Sam Kim at .

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  • January 1951

    Six months after invading North Korean forces started the Korean War, North Korean leader and founder Kim Il Sung says in a speech that U.S. and South Korean forces were the actual invaders and had prompted his army to retaliate. Kim vows to annihilate the North's enemies. <em>Caption: In this March 7, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 8, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, uses binoculars to look at the South's territory from an observation post at the military unit on Jangjae islet, located in the southernmost part of the southwestern sector of North Korea's border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS) </em>

  • January 1952

    Kim Il Sung likens U.S. forces to Nazis and says that the war is turning into a mass grave for U.S. forces. <em>Caption: In this March 7, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 8, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, walks with military personnel as he arrives for a military unit on Mu Islet, located in the southernmost part of the southwestern sector of North Korea's border with South Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS)</em>

  • May 1972

    Kim Il Sung tells Harrison Salisbury and John Lee of The New York Times that because of perceived U.S. hostility, "we are always making preparations for war. We do not conceal this matter." <em>Caption: North Koreans attend a rally in support of a statement given on Tuesday by a spokesman for the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army vowing to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War as well as boasting of the North's ownership of "lighter and smaller nukes" and its ability to execute "surgical strikes" meant to unify the divided Korean Peninsula, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)</em>

  • March 1993

    North Korea declares a "semi-state of war" to protest joint U.S.-South Korean war games that it says threaten its security. Amid a standoff with Washington over its nuclear program, it also threatens to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. <em>Caption: In this Dec. 12, 2012 file photo released by Korean Central News Agency, North Korea's Unha-3 rocket lifts off from the Sohae launch pad in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA, File)</em>

  • 1994

    In an appearance of what will become a well-worn phrase, a North Korean negotiator threatens to turn Seoul into "a sea of fire." Fearing war, South Koreans clear store shelves of instant noodles, water, gas and other necessities. <em>Caption: Female North Korean traffic police officers gather in front of bronze statues of the late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to pay their respects in Pyongyang, North Korea on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)</em>

  • September 1996

    North Korea threatens "hundredfold and thousandfold retaliation" against South Korean troops who had captured or killed armed North Korean agents who had used a submarine to sneak into the South. <em>Caption: North Korean soldiers gather along a Pyongyang street during heavy snowfall on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)</em>

  • September 1996

    North Korea threatens "hundredfold and thousandfold retaliation" against South Korean troops who had captured or killed armed North Korean agents who had used a submarine to sneak into the South. <em>Caption: A North Korean soldier smokes a cigarette as snow falls in Pyongyang on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)</em>

  • January 2002

    After President George W. Bush labels North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran, Pyongyang calls the remark "little short of a declaration of war." North Korea's Foreign Ministry warns it "will never tolerate the U.S. reckless attempt to stifle the (North) by force of arms but mercilessly wipe out the aggressors." <em>Caption: A North Korean portrait photographer instructs North Korean soldiers to pose for a picture under a mosaic of the late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at an exhibition in Pyongyang on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 where Kimjongilia flowers, named after Kim Jong Il, were on display. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)</em>

  • January 2010

    North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission warns that the country will initiate a "retaliatory holy war" against South Korea over Seoul's alleged contingency plan to deal with potential unrest in the North. <em>Caption: A North Korean man stands next to a tractor and wagon on the edge of a snow covered field near the village of Ryongsan-ri, south of Pyongyang, North Korea on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)</em>

  • May 2010

    After a Seoul-led international investigation blames a North Korean torpedo for the sinking of a South Korea warship that killed 46 sailors, Pyongyang issues a denial and warns of a "prompt physical strike." In November 2010, the North attacked a front-line island, killing four South Koreans. <em>Caption: North Koreans cross a railroad bridge over a riverbed south of Mount Myohyang, and north of the capital city of Pyongyang, North Korea, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)</em>

  • November 2011

    A day after South Korea conducts large-scale military drills near the island hit by the North in 2010, the North's Korean People's Army threatens to turn Seoul's presidential palace into a "sea of fire." <em>Caption: In this Feb. 16, 2013 image made from video, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, waves as he attends a statue unveiling ceremony at Mangyongdae Revolutionary School in Pyongyang, North Korea on the anniversary of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's birthday. (AP Photo/KRT via AP Video)</em>

  • April 2012

    North Korea holds a massive rally denouncing conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak as a "rat." It says he should be struck with a "retaliatory bolt of lightning" because of his confrontational approach toward Pyongyang. <em>Caption: Rows of North Korean children stand and salute at a sports arena in Pyongyang for a national meeting of the Children's Union on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)</em>

  • June 2012

    North Korea's military warns that troops have aimed artillery at seven South Korean media groups to express outrage over criticism in Seoul of ongoing children's festivals in Pyongyang. It threatens a "merciless sacred war." <em>Caption: South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)</em>

  • October 2012

    An unidentified spokesman at the powerful National Defense Commission warns that the U.S. mainland is within range of its missiles and says Washington's recent agreement to let Seoul possess missiles capable of hitting all of North Korea shows the allies are plotting to invade the North. <em>Caption: North Korean soldiers and others gather in front of bronze statues of the late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to pay their respects in Pyongyang, North Korea on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)</em>

  • North Korean soldiers lay flowers at the base of bronze statues of the late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to pay their respects in Pyongyang, North Korea on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. North Koreans turned out to commemorate what would have been the 71th birthday of Kim Jong Il who died on Dec. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)