An American man who tried to enter North Korea illegally has been expelled by the country’s regime, an unexpected and swift move that cemented the two nations’ growing relationship.
The U.S. citizen, identified as Lawrence Bruce Byron, claimed he was under the CIA’s command, the Guardian reported. He had been in custody after illegally crossing from China into North Korea on 16 October, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
“While being questioned, he said he had illegally entered the country under the command of the US Central Intelligence Agency,” KCNA is quoted as saying in the Guardian.
“Relevant authorities have decided to expel him from the country.”
Circumstances in which North Korea releases an American detainee so promptly are extremely rare. The decision to expel Byron came somewhat as a surprise, yet if North Korea had taken a stricter path, that would have put a restraint on its efforts at reconciliation with the United States.
A man with the same name was also arrested in South Korea in November last year as he tried to cross the strictly-patrolled inter-Korean border. The American citizen is reportedly in his late 50s and is from Louisiana, and was later deported back to the U.S.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared relieved upon learning of North Korea’s decision to handle the case so swiftly. Pompeo himself has traveled four times this year to Pyongyang to help improve diplomatic ties between the two countries.
“The United States appreciates the cooperation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the embassy of Sweden in facilitating the release of an American citizen,” Pompeo said. Sweden is responsible for representing U.S. interests in the Asian nation when there is a lack of diplomatic relations.
“The United States is grateful for the sustained support of Sweden, our protecting power in North Korea, for its advocacy on behalf of American citizens,” the Secretary of State added.
Several reports claim that Byron, who’s a private citizen, told South Korean officials that he was trying to help facilitate talks between North Korea and the United States. In most cases, American detainees in North Korea, who have included tourists, journalists, and even missionaries, have only been released after much media coverage and high-profile interventions. The Guardian clarified.
“‘This gesture means the North wants to keep up momentum for dialogue with the U.S.,’ professor Yang Moo-Jin from the University of North Korean Studies told AFP.”
The reclusive nation decided to free three U.S. citizens in May just before the summit between its leader Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump in Singapore. There are no known American detainees still being held by the rigid state at the moment.