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(2nd LD) N. Korea detains American for hostile acts against Pyongyang

All News 01:40 January 23, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with State Department confirmation; ADDS to dateline)

SEOUL/WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Friday that it has arrested a U.S college student for allegedly conducting hostile acts against the regime.

Warmbier Otto Frederick, a student at the University of Virginia is being questioned by North Korean officials after being caught taking part in anti-North Korea activity, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch.

The state news agency claimed that the student entered North Korea nominally for tourism, though the real intention was to undermine North Korea's unity under the U.S. government's acquiescence and control.

The one-sentence dispatch did not provide details on how and when the student was arrested.

In Washington, the State Department spokesman said it is aware of the reports.

"We are aware of media reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea," spokesman Mark Toner said by email. "The welfare of U.S. citizens is one of the Department's highest priorities. In cases where U.S. citizens are reported detained in North Korea, we work closely with the Swedish Embassy, which serves as the United States' Protecting Power in North Korea."

Toner said he has no further information to share due to privacy considerations.

The North's move came as the U.N. Security Council is working on a fresh resolution for tougher sanctions against North Korea following Pyongyang's nuclear test earlier this month.

"The North seems to keep the U.S. in check as Washington is moving to take stronger sanctions against the North," said Hong Hyun-ik, a senior researcher at Sejong Institute.

Experts said that the North has used detained Americans as leverage to force the U.S. to open bilateral talks with it.

In 2014, Pyongyang released three detained Americans -- Kenneth Bae, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Fowle.

Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old U.S. citizen, was detained by the North on charges of espionage, after being arrested in October last year, according to a report by CNN earlier this month. The U.S. has declined to confirm Kim's detention.

Lim Hyeon-soo, a Korean-Canadian pastor, has also been held in captivity in the North since he entered the country via China on a humanitarian mission in January 2015.

In December, the North's highest court sentenced Lim to life in prison, citing his "subversive plots" against the North's regime.

Meanwhile, three detained South Koreans -- missionary Kim Jung-wook, Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil -- in North Korea face criminal punishment as they were sentenced to hard labor for life on charges of spying for Seoul's intelligence agency.

In October, Pyongyang freed Joo Won-moon, a New York University student with a U.S. green card, after a six-month detention, on what it claimed was humanitarian grounds.


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