North Korea yesterday said a Korean-American tourist, jailed by the reclusive state late last year, will face trial for “committing crimes” against North Korea, a move that could further stoke tensions with the US.
The move comes amid a diplomatic standoff between the North and the US, and after Pyongyang threatened to attack US military bases in the Pacific and the South.
A number of US citizens of Korean descent have run into trouble in the North over the years, and Pyongyang has tried to use their detention to attract visits by high-profile American figures, most notably former US president Bill Clinton.
In the latest case, Kenneth Bae, 44, has been held by police since arriving in the northeastern city of Rajin on Nov. 3. He was among a group of five tourists.
“In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed at toppling the DPRK with hostility toward it,” KCNA state media reported, using the North’s official title of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
South Korean rights workers said that the North’s authorities may have taken issue with some of his photographs, including those of homeless North Korean children.
A South Korean newspaper published by an evangelical family said he may have been carrying footage of North Korea executing defectors and dissidents. It was impossible to verify this.
According to North Korean law, the punishment for hostile acts against the state is five to 10 years of hard labor.
Former UN ambassador Bill Richardson has made numerous trips to North Korea that have included efforts to free detained Americans. He delivered a letter regarding Bae to officials during a trip to North Korea in January, although he was unable to meet Bae.
Tensions between North Korea and South Korea and its ally the US have spiralled in recent weeks since the UN tightened sanctions after the North’s third nuclear test in February.
The toughening of those sanctions led to the North threatening nuclear strikes against South Korea and the US.
North Korea has a long record of making threats to secure concessions from the US and South Korea, only to repeat the process later. Both the US and South Korea have said in recent days that the cycle must cease.