An American citizen has been detained by the communist authorities in North Korea, a country that has no diplomatic ties with the United States, a US official said Tuesday.
“We’re obviously aware of these reports that a US citizen has been detained in North Korea. We obviously have no higher priority than the welfare of our citizens,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
But she refused to go into details citing privacy concerns, adding only that the embassy of Sweden usually acts on behalf of Washington to interact with Pyongyang on any issues involving Americans in the isolated state.
According to the South Korean newspaper Kookmin Ilbo, quoted by Yonhap news agency, a 44-year-old Korean-American tour operator was detained in early November as he entered the northeastern port of Rajin.
He arrived along with five other tourists for a five-day visit on November 3, but was detained when a computer hard disk was found among the group’s belongings, the paper said, quoting an unidentified source.
Several Americans have been held in North Korea in recent years. In 2010 former US president Jimmy Carter won plaudits when he negotiated the release of American national, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, sentenced to eight years hard labor in North Korea for illegally crossing into the North from China.
On another mercy mission a year earlier in 2009, former president Bill Clinton won the release of US television journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, jailed after wandering across the North Korean border with China.
The latest detention comes after North Korea said it plans to launch a long range rocket — a move condemned by the international community.
However, the launch looked set for a delay Tuesday with reports that the entire rocket had been removed from the launch pad for repairs, Yonhap said, quoting a source.