North Korea detains third US citizen, South claims

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 10:02pm

North Korea detained a US citizen on Friday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, bringing the total number of Americans held by the isolated country to three.

The man, a Korean-American in his fifties identified only by his surname Kim, had been in North Korea for a month to discuss relief activities, Yonhap said on Sunday. He was arrested at Pyongyang International Airport on his way out of the country.

The man was a former professor at Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST), Yonhap said, citing unnamed sources. YUST, a university in neighbouring China, has a sister university in Pyongyang.

An official at South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said it was not aware of the reported arrest. Calls to YUST went unanswered.

The director of a Seoul-based group called the World North Korea Research Centre said his sources in Pyongyang had confirmed the arrest.

“The reason North Korea is not saying anything yet is because it is not done with the investigations,” said Ahn Chan-il, a former defector.

“It is important for them to hold a US citizen hostage at this point to prevent Washington from carrying out a decapitation of Kim Jong-un,” Ahn said, referring to the North’s fears that the US plans a secret military strike to topple its leader.

“It’s also a resolve to point a double-action revolver against the US and China because he is a US citizen who worked in China.”

US President Donald Trump has urged China to take stronger steps to press the North to curb its nuclear and missile programmes.

Trump’s deputy Mike Pence, during a regional tour last week, warned that “all options are on the table” to curb the North’s nuclear ambitions as fears grow it may be planning another atomic test.

North Korea has in the past used detained Americans to extract high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.

North Korea was already holding two Americans.

Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old student, was detained in January last year and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour by a North Korean court for trying to steal a propaganda banner.

In March 2016, Korean-American Kim Dong-chul, 62, was sentenced to 10 years hard labour for subversion.

US missionary Kenneth Bae was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years hard labour for crimes against the state.

He was released two years later.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse