North Korea releases Canadian held for two months

Mon Jan 28, 2008 3:21am EST
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SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea released at the weekend a Canadian reportedly held by the communist state for two months, a Canadian Embassy official in Seoul said on Monday.

The Toronto Star said Je Yell Kim, a Christian aid worker who provided dental care for North Koreans in the northeast part of the country, was taken into custody by authorities on November 3 on charges of violating national security.

Kim was sent to China, where he met Canadian diplomats, said Jeff Dutton, a counselor at the Canadian Embassy in Seoul.

"We are facilitating and have facilitated his reunion with his family," Dutton said." We have been providing counselor assistance to Mr. Kim since this case was brought to light."

Kim, a Canadian-Korean businessman from Edmonton, seems to have run into trouble for his religious views, reports from Canada said. The United States and others have criticized North Korea for its suppression of religion.

The Toronto Star cited relatives and friends as saying he had been doing dental aid work in one of the poorest regions of the destitute North for about 10 years, with the approval of the North Korean authorities.

They also said Kim would never abuse the trust extended to him by North Korean authorities, the paper reported last week.

Aid workers said they heard Kim was arrested after North Korean officials read what appeared to be his notes for a sermon, the paper said.

Reclusive North Korea is reluctant to allow foreigners into its country. In September 2007, it said it was stepping up internal securities after it detected and smashed espionage conducted by "a foreign intelligence service."

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Keiron Henderson)