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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer
Friday, January 22, 2016
AMERICAN CAPTURED: North Korea says college student is a US spy
North Korea said Friday that it had arrested a University of Virginia student for allegedly committing "anti-state" acts orchestrated by the U.S. government.
In language that mirrors past North Korean claims of outside conspiracies, state media claimed Otto Frederick Warmbier entered the North as a tourist with a plot to undermine unity among the North Koreans with "the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation."
The report from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Warmbier was "arrested while perpetrating a hostile act," but didn't say when he was detained or explain the nature of the act.
The University of Virginia's website listed Warmbier as an undergraduate commerce student. A LinkedIn page under Warmbier's name indicated that he was originally from Ohio and a third-year student at the university.
He has also visited Cuba, Ireland and Israel, according to his Facebook page, Reuters reports.
An official at the U.S. embassy in the South Korean capital Seoul told Reuters it was aware of the reported arrest, but had no further comment.
A spokesman for China-based Young Pioneer Tours, which specializes in travel to North Korea, told Reuters that Warmbier had been detained on Jan. 2, while on one of the company's tours.
"We are in touch with Otto's family, the U.S. State Department and the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang and doing all we can to secure his release," Gareth Johnson said. Sweden handles U.S. consular issues in North Korea because Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations.
The announcement came as Washington, Seoul and others are pushing hard to slap North Korea with tougher sanctions for its recent nuclear test. In the past, North Korea often announced the arrests of foreign detainees in times of tension with the outside world in an apparent attempt to wrest concessions or diplomatic maneuvering room.
North Korea regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of sending "spies" to overthrow its government to enable the U.S.-backed South Korean government to control the entire Korean Peninsula. Some foreigners previously arrested have read statements of guilt that they later said were coerced.
A few thousand Westerners are thought to visit North Korea each year, and Pyongyang is pushing for more tourists as a way to help its dismal economy. The U.S. State Department has warned against travel to the North, however, and visitors, especially those from America, who break the country's sometimes murky rules risk detention, arrest and possible jail sentences, although most have eventually been released.
Warmbier would be the third Westerner known to be held by the secretive Communist state. Last year, South Korean-born Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was sentenced to life in prison for alleged subversion.
Earlier this month, a Korean-American man told CNN that he was being held by North Korea on suspicion of spying. The U.S. State Department said it could not confirm the CNN report. It declined to discuss the issue further.
North Korea has previously released or deported U.S. detainees after high-profile Americans visited the country. In late 2014, for instance, North Korea released two Americans after a secret mission to the North by James Clapper, the top U.S. intelligence official. Critics say such trips have provided diplomatic credibility to the North.
The United States and North Korea are in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea.