North Korea charges detained American with crime against state

SEOUL Fri Dec 21, 2012 2:43pm EST

A North Korean soldier walks on the banks of Yalu River in the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, December 15, 2012. REUTERS/Jacky Chen

A North Korean soldier walks on the banks of Yalu River in the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, December 15, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jacky Chen

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SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Friday it had detained an American tourist on charges of perpetrating a crime against the state and is putting him through criminal proceedings, indicating it is set to try him.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean American tourist who travelled to visit North Korea last month, has been detained by police in the reclusive state, associates of his family and activists in Seoul said last week.

His custody comes amid tension between Pyongyang and Washington over a recent North Korean rocket launch, which U.S. officials consider a provocative test of ballistic missile technology.

"In the process of investigation, evidence proving that he committed a crime against the DPRK was revealed. He admitted his crime," the state news agency KCNA reported.

KCNA said Swedish Embassy officials had visited Bae on Friday but provided no details of his condition or of the crime with which he was charged. Sweden handles the affairs of U.S. citizens in North Korea because the United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as it is officially known.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department confirmed that an American citizen had been detained, but declined to provide further details.

According to North Korean law, the punishment for hostile acts against the state is five to 10 years of hard labor.

Kookmin Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper owned by an evangelical church, had said Bae had been arrested for carrying a computer hard disk which contained footage of North Korea executing defectors and dissidents.

It has not been possible to verify the report.

U.S. citizens of Korean descent have previously run into trouble in North Korea. Robert Park, a missionary, was detained after entering the country in late 2009 and says he was tortured for protesting against human rights abuses.

Earlier that year, former U.S. President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang to secure the release of two American journalists who had entered North Korea illegally.

The two were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a work camp for crossing the border illegally and "committing hostile acts".

North Korea, which has twice tested nuclear devices, launched a rocket on December 12 that put an object into orbit.

The launch drew U.N. condemnation as a violation of a ban on missile-related activities, but North Korea has said it was exercising its right to space exploration.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Jack Kim and Will Dunham)

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