North releases jailed Japanese tourist: KCNA

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North releases jailed Japanese tourist: KCNA

North Korea released a Japanese detainee who recently entered the North as a tourist, the country’s state-run media reported Sunday night.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) didn’t spell out Tomoyuki Sugimoto’s alleged crime, saying only that he broke North Korean law. An English version of the KCNA report stated that Sugimoto was released “on the principle of humanitarianism.”

Sugimoto “was kept under control by a relevant institution to be inquired into his crime against the law of the DPRK,” read the KCNA report. The DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

Japanese news outlet Kyodo reported that the man was deported from the North and was currently in China. A South Korean diplomatic source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that he arrived in Beijing on Monday.

Citing an unidentified government source in Japan, Kyodo said Sugimoto is believed to be a videographer from the central Japanese prefecture of Shiga. He was suspected of shooting video footage of a North Korean military facility when he visited the western port city of Nampo with a tour group. According to the source, Sugimoto visited the North on a tour arranged by a foreign travel agency and may have visited the North in the past.

Sources in South Korea’s diplomatic community said Sugimoto entered the North around Aug. 10.

Japan does not have diplomatic ties with North Korea, so Tokyo contacted Pyongyang via a communication channel at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing to collect information about Sugimoto’s detention and request his release, Kyodo reported.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday he was aware of the KCNA announcement but refused to answer any questions on Sugimoto’s safety or the timing of his return, The Japan Times reported.

“Given the nature of the matter, I will refrain from comment,” Suga said at a regular news conference.

Pyongyang’s speedy release of a Japanese detainee is a stark break with the past. The North used to spend several weeks or months putting foreign nationals to trial, sentencing them to heavy punishment and persuading home countries to offer formal apologies before releasing them on "humanitarian grounds.” Four South Korean nationals are still under detention in the North.

A former high-level South Korean government official said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might be trying to implement “global standards” on foreign detainees. Another diplomatic source said that the North could be trying to improve its ties with Japan, as it is with China and the United States, to break the stalemate in denuclearization talks with Washington given Tokyo's clout in Asia as a strong ally of the United States.

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