North Korea discusses American and Canadian prisoners with Sweden in Pyongyang

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 3:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 6:33pm

North Korea said on Friday that it had discussed the issue of American and Canadian detainees with the Swedish ambassador in the country.

The North is holding at least two Americans and one Canadian for alleged espionage, subversion and other anti-state activities.

Both the US and Canada have no diplomatic offices in North Korea.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry official met with the Swedish ambassador on Thursday for talks on consular access for the Canadian detainee, Hyeon Soo Lim, a Christian pastor sentenced last year to life in prison with hard labour, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The Swedish ambassador used the meeting as a chance to raise the issue of consular affairs for the American detainees. The Pyongyang official, identified as the director general of the ministry’s European Department 2, reiterated a position that the North will handle the issues of detained Americans line with a wartime law, according to the KCNA.

No further details were given, including what the North Korean official said about Lim.

In July, North Korea announced that it would handle all issues between the two countries in line with a wartime law in response to US sanctions that target leader Kim Jong-un.

It has not elaborated on what wartime law means, although it suggests North Korea could deal with US detainees in a harsher manner.

Korean-American Kim Tong Chol is serving a 10-year prison term with hard labour, while University of Virginia undergraduate Otto Warmbier received 15 years over alleged anti-state activities such as espionage and subversion.

Lim, who pastored the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was sentenced in December last year for what the North called crimes against the state.

Pyongyang’s Supreme Court found Lim guilty of crimes such as trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping US and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programmes to assist defectors from the North.

Outside analysts say North Korea often uses foreign detainees as a way to win concessions from other countries. Pyongyang is locked in a long-running standoff with Washington and other countries over its pursuit of nuclear weapons.