N. Korea detains U.S. citizen
Country says he confessed to ‘acts against republic.’
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.