N. Korea de­tains U.S. cit­i­zen

Coun­try says he con­fessed to ‘acts against repub­lic.’

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Choe Sang-hun

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — North Korea said Fri­day that it had de­tained a U.S. cit­i­zen on charges of com­mit­ting “hos­tile acts against the repub­lic,” a crime pun­ish­able by years in prison in the iso­lated coun­try.

The North’s state-run Korean Cen­tral News Agency said the Amer­i­can, Bae Jun-ho, had en­tered the coun­try Nov. 3 through a port city near the Rus­sian bor­der. Hu­man rights ac­tivists in Seoul said they be­lieved Bae to be Ken­neth Bae, 44, who they said ear­lier this month had been de­tained in the North.

The North Korean report said, with­out elab­o­rat­ing, that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion had es­tab­lished Bae’s guilt and that he had con­fessed. It said he had been al­lowed to meet with of­fi­cials from the Swedish Em­bassy in Py­ongyang, which in­ter­venes on Washington’s be­half on is­sues in­volv­ing U.S. ci­ti­zens in North Korea. The U.S. has no diplo­matic re­la­tions with North Korea.

The charge comes at a sen­si­tive time for the U.S., which is try­ing to rally sup­port for a new round of penal­ties against North Korea over its launch of a long-range rocket.

In re­cent years, North Korea has de­tained sev­eral Amer­i­cans, in some cases agree­ing to let them go only af­ter high-pro­file U.S. fig­ures vis­ited Py­ongyang to seek their re­lease. An­a­lysts have sus­pected North Korea of try­ing to use such ar­rests to counter Washington’s diplo­matic pres­sure.

The hu­man rights ac­tivists in Seoul said Bae ran a travel com­pany that spe­cial­ized in tak­ing tourists and prospec­tive in­vestors to North Korea. Bae, a nat­u­ral­ized U.S. cit­i­zen born in South Korea, was de­tained af­ter es­cort­ing five Euro­pean tourists into the North, said Do Hee-youn, who heads the Ci­ti­zens’ Coali­tion for the Hu­man Rights of North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul. The Euro­peans were al­lowed to leave the coun­try, Do said.

The South Korean daily news­pa­per Kook­min Ilbo ear­lier cited an un­named source as say­ing that Bae was de­tained af­ter North Korean se­cu­rity of­fi­cials found a com­puter hard disk in his pos­ses­sion that they be­lieved con­tained sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion about the coun­try. Do said Bae may have taken pic­tures of North Korean or­phans he wanted to help and that the au­thor­i­ties may have con­sid­ered that an act of anti-North Korean pro­pa­ganda.

An­other Amer­i­can, Ai­jalon Mahli Gomes, was ar­rested in 2010 in North Korea and was sen­tenced to eight years of hard la­bor for il­le­gal en­try and “hos­tile acts.” He was freed af­ter former Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter vis­ited Py­ongyang and, ac­cord­ing to North Korea, “apol­o­gized” for the man’s crime.

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