North Korea said yesterday it had detained an American who entered the country illegally, after activists claimed that a 28-year-old from Arizona went to the country on a mission to call attention to the regime’s human rights abuses.
The American was being investigated after “illegally entering” the country through the North Korea-China border on Thursday, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a two-line dispatch.
The report did not identify the American, but activists believe he is 28-year-old Christian missionary Robert Park, who they say slipped across the frozen Tumen River into North Korea from China on Christmas bearing letters calling for a change in North Korea’s leadership and an end to political prison camps.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it could not confirm that the person cited in the dispatch is Park but noted that it had no intelligence indicating that other Americans went into North Korea illegally in recent days.
North Korea is one of the most reclusive nations in the world, allowing few citizens beyond its borders and strictly regulating who is allowed in.
The detainment comes just months after North Korea freed two US journalists who had been arrested in March and sentenced four months later to 12 years of hard labor for trespassing and engaging in “hostile acts.”
The women were released in August to former US president Bill Clinton, who journeyed to Pyongyang to negotiate their freedom.
US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters on Monday that the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang had offered to try to get information about Park for the US, which does not have diplomatic ties with North Korea.