NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 24-year-old American man detained in North Korea had arranged a private tour of the country through a U.S. travel company and gave no indication he might try to seek asylum upon arriving in Pyongyang, the company’s director said Sunday.
Matthew Todd Miller was taken into custody by North Korean officials after entering the country on April 10, ripping up his tourist visa and demanding asylum, according to North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency.
Miller’s travel to North Korea was arranged by New Jersey-based Uri Tours, which specializes in guided trips through the isolated Communist country, and he gave no indication he might be seeking asylum.
“Nothing in his tour application raised concerns prior to his departure,” John Dantzler-Wolfe, the director of Uri Tours, told Reuters in an email.
“We cannot speak to Mr. Miller’s motivations or mental state. He did not express any special intentions in his tour application,” he said.
The U.S. State Department said it was aware of reports that a U.S. citizen had been detained in North Korea and it was in touch with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang on the issue.
The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and the interests of American citizens in the country are represented by Sweden.
Reuters has so far not been able to contact Miller’s family.
Dantzler-Wolfe said Miller had arranged a private tour of North Korea and requested only local guides, instead of the usual combination of local and foreign tour leaders.
Those guides informed Uri Tours that Miller had arrived in the country and “deliberately ripped his visa and had declared that he was ‘not a tourist,’” Dantzler-Wolfe said.
An emergency contact name provided on Miller’s tour application could not be reached, Dantzler-Wolfe said.
The American visitor has been identified in Korean media as Miller Matthew Todd, apparently in the Korean convention of putting the last name first.
Miller is the latest American visitor to be detained by North Korean authorities.
In December, 85-year-old Merrill E. Newman was released after more than a month of detention after being pulled from a flight about to depart Pyongyang and accused of war crimes during the Korean War six decades ago.
Another American, Kenneth Bae, has been held in North Korea for more than a year. He was arrested as he led a tour group in the country in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of state subversion.
North Korea has twice canceled visits by Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to discuss Bae’s case.
Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler