North may be holding man hostage, reports claim

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North may be holding man hostage, reports claim

TOKYO - North Korea may have detained an elderly American man last month who entered the country on a tourist visa, Kyodo News said on Wednesday, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.

Kyodo, in a report from Beijing, said the possible detention could become another diplomatic bargaining chip for North Korea, which has held Korean-American tour guide Kenneth Bae since November 2012. Bae has been sentenced by the regime to 15 years of hard labor.

U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing and Seoul said they were aware of the reports but could not confirm them.

North Korea claims the man, who allegedly is not of Korean descent, has broken the law, according to Kyodo. The man entered North Korea for sightseeing last month with a valid visa, the diplomatic source was quoted as saying.

“We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea, but we have no additional information to share at this time,” said Nolan Barkhouse, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

He urged Americans to read a State Department warning that “recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea.”

That warning says that “U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention.”

North Korea said on Nov. 7 that it had arrested a South Korean spy, but has not provided any more details. It has not made any statement about this apparent arrest.

In Seoul, local media said the South Korean man arrested in North Korea as a “spy” was a missionary.

“The South Korean [man] who North Korea claims is a South Korean spy turned out to be a 50-year-old missionary named Kim Jeong-wook,” the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said on its website, citing Kim’s family in South Korea and unnamed sources in China.

A U.S. Embassy official in Seoul, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believed the two cases were separate.

In recent years, a few American nationals of Korean descent have gotten into trouble in North Korea and have required high profile figures, such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, to secure their release.

Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations, and the Swedish Embassy in North Korea, which handles issues dealing with U.S. citizens, declined to comment on the latest arrest reports when contacted by Reuters. Reuters
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