A Washington state man has been detained in North Korea.
PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea confirmed Friday that a man from Washington state has been detained there. North Korean authorities say he has confessed after confessing to unspecified crimes.
The man was identified as Pae Jun Ho in a brief dispatch issued by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. News reports in the U.S. and South Korea said Pae is known in Washington state as Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tour operator of Korean descent.
North Korean state media said he arrived in the far northeastern city of Rajin on Nov. 3 as part of a tour.
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Rajin is part of a special economic zone not far from Yanji, China, that has sought to draw foreign investors and tourists over the past year. Yanji, home to many ethnic Korean Chinese, also serves as a base for Christian groups that shelter North Korean defectors.
“In the process of investigation, evidence proving that he committed a crime against (North Korea) was revealed. He admitted his crime,” the KCNA dispatch said.
The North said the crimes were “proven through evidence” but did not elaborate.
Human-rights activists in Seoul said Bae ran a travel company that specialized in taking tourists and prospective investors to North Korea. Bae, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea, was detained after escorting five European tourists into the North, said Do Hee-Youn, who heads the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul. The Europeans were allowed to leave the country, Do said.
The South Korean daily newspaper Kookmin Ilbo cited an unnamed source as saying that Bae was detained after North Korean security officials found a computer hard disk in his possession that they believed contained sensitive information about the country.
Do said that Bae may have taken pictures of North Korean orphans he wanted to help and that the authorities may have considered that an act of anti-North Korean propaganda.
KCNA said consular officials from the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang visited Pae on Friday. Sweden represents the United States in diplomatic affairs in North Korea since Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations.
Karl-Olof Andersson, Sweden’s ambassador to North Korea, told The Associated Press he could not comment on the case and referred the matter to the U.S. State Department.
The operator of a Korean language website for the Korean community in the Northwest, Chong Tae Kim, of JoySeattle.com, said the detainee’s father lives in Korea and his mother lives in Lynnwood.
“She hopes the State Department and Swedish Embassy help with his release,” he said Friday. “She’s trying not to speak to reporters, fearing that could affect her son’s release.”
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Friday would only say that the agency was aware of the detention and that the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang is providing consular services.
“We can, indeed, confirm that a U.S. citizen has been detained in North Korea,” Ventrell said, adding that he could not say more because of privacy restrictions.
News of the arrest comes as North Korea is celebrating the launch of a satellite into space on Dec. 12, in defiance of calls by the U.S. and others to cancel a liftoff widely seen as an illicit test of ballistic missile technology.
The announcement of Bae’s detainment could be a signal from the North that it wants dialogue with the United States, said Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.
“North Korea knows sanctions will follow its rocket launch. But in the long run, it needs an excuse to reopen talks after the political atmosphere moves past sanctions,” Cheong said.
Cheong said he expects that Bae will be tried and convicted in coming months. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has the power to grant amnesty and will exercise it as a bargaining chip, Cheong said.
Material from The New York Times was added to this report.
AP writers Foster Klug and Sam Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and Doug Esser in Seattle contributed to this report.