North Korea confirmed Thursday that it has arrested an American man for committing an unspecified crime and is preparing to indict him.
The man, identified by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency as Jun Young Su, is the latest US citizen to be detained in the reclusive communist state in recent years.
North Korea informed Washington about the situation and Jun is being given necessary humanitarian conveniences including consular contact with Swedish Embassy officials in Pyongyang, the news agency said.
Earlier this week, the US State Department called for North Korea to release one of its citizens and said Swedish officials had visited the American. But it gave no further details. The US – which fought on South Korea’s side during the 1950-53 Korean War – doesn’t have diplomatic staff inside North Korea and Sweden handles Washington’s interests there.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Thursday that a Korean-American with business interests in North Korea was being detained for alleged Christian proselytizing. Yonhap, citing the Korean Christian community in the United States, said the man is in his 60s, attends a Korean church in Orange County, California, and has a North Korean visa.
Several Americans have been detained in North Korea in recent years and freeing them often requires high-profile negotiations.
In August, former President Jimmy Carter brought home Aijalon Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years’ hard labour for crossing into the North from China. He was detained for seven months in all.
Korean-American missionary Robert Park defiantly walked into North Korea on Christmas Day in 2009 to draw attention to the North’s alleged human rights abuses and to call for the resignation of leader Kim Jong Il. He was released weeks later without charge.
Also in 2009, journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested for trespassing in North Korea and released only after former President Bill Clinton made a trip to Pyongyang to ask for their freedom.
The latest arrest came as Carter plans to travel to Pyongyang again as early as this month.
Carter said last week that he plans to focus on trying to revive international disarmament talks on the North’s nuclear program and seek ways to help with the country’s humanitarian woes.
The North appears to want to use the latest detention to improve ties with the United States, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies. Still, given that the country usually releases detainees after indicting and sentencing them, there may not be sufficient time for Carter to bring Jun home during the upcoming visit, Yang said.