American Detained In North Korea, Fate Of Tourist Still Unconfirmed

An American detained in North Korea has been identifed as 44-year-old tourist Kenneth Bae.

According to associates of his family and activists in Seoul, Bae traveled to North Korea on November 3 for what was supposed to have been a five-day trip. However, he has now been arrested and detained by police in the hermit state.

Bae, a Korean-American, was with four other tourists when his group visited the northeast city of Rajin, reports South Korean news agency Yonhap, citing a report by the Kookmin Ilbo newspaper. Bae entered North Korea on November 3 for a five-day visit. North Korean human rights activist Do Hee-youn revealed Bae was in the reclusive state in a bid to raise awareness of its appalling human rights record:

“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.”

The term kotjebis, which translates into English as “fluttering swallows,” refers to the thousands of children in the North made homeless following famines in the 1990s.

Bae’s arrest has not yet been confirmed in North Korean media, and the Swedish Embassy in Seoul (which handles the affairs of US citizens in North Korea due to Washington and Pyongyang having no diplomatic relations) has not confirmed it is aware of the arrest.

Citing an anonymous source, Kookmin Ilbo reported that Bae could be released in two or three weeks and that he had allegedly been arrested for carrying a computer hard disk containing video of North Korea executing defectors and dissidents.

Bae is not the first American detained in North Korea. In March 2009, North Korean border guards arrested American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were working for the US independent cable television network Current TV, after they crossed into North Korea from the People’s Republic of China without a visa.

The women were sentenced to twelve years hard labor on charges of illegal entry in June 2009, but late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il pardoned the pair after meeting former US President Bill Clinton, who flew to Pyongyang to negotiate Lee and Ling’s release.

The US State Department has declined to comment on the latest reports.