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NKorea says it has detained U.S. citizen

By Jean H. Lee

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 21 2012 9:02 p.m. MST

North Koreans bow in front of the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il at Mansu Hill as it snows in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea said Friday that an American citizen has been detained after confessing to unspecified crimes, confirming news reports about his arrest at a time when Pyongyang is facing criticism from Washington for launching a long-range rocket last week.

The American was identified as Pae Jun Ho in a brief dispatch issued by the state-run Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang. News reports in the U.S. and South Korea said Pae is known in his home state of Washington as Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tour operator of Korean descent.

An expert said he is likely to become a bargaining chip for the North, an attempt to draw the U.S. into talks. Five other Americans known to have been detained in North Korea since 2009 were all eventually released.

North Korean state media said Pae arrived in the far northeastern city of Rajin on Nov. 3 as part of a tour.

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.

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 State Department was not immediately able to provide any additional information about the report.

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, Washington.

"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."

The office of U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene says it has reached out to the mother and is pressing the State Department for information.

"We are very concerned about it and seeing what can be done on our end to help with this," said spokesman Viet Shelton.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Friday would only say that they were aware of the detention and that 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.

In Seoul, the Segye Ilbo newspaper reported last week that Bae had been taking tourists on a five-day trip to the North when he was arrested. The newspaper cited unidentified sources.

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.

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