Korean-American tourist detained by North Korea: report

Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:10pm EST
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SEOUL/SEATTLE (Reuters) - A Korean-American tourist who visited North Korea last month for what was to have been a five-day trip has been detained by police in the reclusive state, South Korean media reported on Thursday.

Kenneth Bae, 44, was in a group of five tourists who visited the northeast city of Rajin, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said, citing a report by the newspaper Kookmin Ilbo. Bae entered North Korea on November 3 for a five-day visit, South Korean media reported.

CNN said Bae was part of a Protestant religious group in the United States. Washington does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea. U.S. interests are looked after by the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.

U.S. citizens of Korean descent have previously run into trouble in the North. Robert Park, a missionary, was detained after entering the country in late 2009 and says he was tortured for protesting the country's human rights record.

Earlier that year, former U.S. President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang to secure the release of two American journalists who had entered North Korea illegally.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the reports that Bae had been detained by North Korean authorities.

"I don't have anything for you on that one way or the other, for privacy reasons," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.

A pastor at a Korean church in Washington state, who said Bae's mother attended services there, said the mother, Myung Bae, had prayed for her son's release on Wednesday morning after learning of his detention from news reports.

"She just learned that he had been detained," pastor Chan Song of the Korean Emmanuel Church in the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood told Reuters. "She's scared. ... She doesn't know how he was detained."   Continued...