SEOUL: North Korea said on Friday it had arrested a US student who, under orders from Washington, had engaged in unspecified “hostile activities” after entering the country on a tourist visa.
The detention comes at a sensitive time, with the United States taking a leading role in international efforts to secure tough sanctions on North Korea over its latest nuclear test.
The student, identified as Frederick Otto Warmbier from the University of Virginia, had entered North Korea as a tourist “in order to shake the foundation of the DPRK’s unity under the direction of the US government”, the North’s official KCNA news agency said, using the official acronym for North Korea.
“He was arrested while carrying out anti-DPRK hostile activities and is now under investigation,” it added. The term “hostile activities” is a catch-all accusation that has been levelled at numerous detained foreigners in the past — covering a range of possible charges from spying to illicit missionary work.
The latest arrest comes months after the North released a South Korean man studying at New York University. Arrested in April for illegal entry, Joo Won-Moon, a 21-year-old with permanent US residency, was freed in October through the border truce village of Panmunjom on the inter-Korean frontier.
Unlike some other foreign citizens detained in the North, Joo was never put on trial. The United States has no diplomatic or consular relations with the North, and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang provides limited consular services to US citizens detained there.
Several Americans have been held in North Korea in recent years, including the South Korean-born missionary Kenneth Bae, who was similarly charged with hostile activities and sentenced in 2013 to 15 years in prison.
Bae was released in November, 2014, along with fellow American Matthew Miller, after a secret mission to Pyongyang led by US intelligence chief James Clapper. North Korea is currently holding a 60-year-old Canadian pastor, who was last month sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour on sedition charges.
During a recent interview the pastor gave to CNN in Pyongyang, the North presented another ethnic Korean prisoner, whom they said was a US citizen arrested for spying in October.