Korean American tourist detained in North Korea

Thu Dec 13, 2012 9:36pm EST
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By David Chance and Ju-min Park

SEOUL (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, associates of his family and activists in Seoul said.

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 Kookmin Ilbo newspaper. Bae entered North Korea on November 3 for a five-day visit.

"What we know is that he is a person who wants to help poor children, kotjebis (homeless children), and he took pictures of them to support them later," said Do Hee-youn, a North Korean human rights activist and head of the Citizens' Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees.

There are said to be thousands of homeless, starving children in the North after a famine in the 1990s. Kotjebis translates into English as "fluttering swallows".

It was impossible to confirm Bae's arrest in one of the world's most secretive states and there has been no formal announcement on North Korean media.

The Swedish Embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether it was aware of the arrest. Sweden handles the affairs of U.S. citizens in North Korea because Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

Kookmin Ilbo, owned by an evangelical church in Seoul, reported it was expected Bae could be released in two or three weeks. The paper cited an unidentified source and it was not possible to confirm the report.

It cited sources as saying Bae had been arrested for carrying a computer hard disk which contained footage of North Korea executing defectors and dissidents. This was also impossible to verify.   Continued...