SEOUL — North Korea confirmed on Friday that it had detained an American tourist on charges of perpetrating a crime against the state and said it is putting him through criminal proceedings, indicating it is set to try him.
Kenneth Bae, a Korean American tourist who traveled to visit North Korea last month, was 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 he was charged with.
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.
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 that contained footage of North Korea executing defectors and dissidents.
It has not been possible to verify the report.
David Guttenfelder / AP
In this March 9, 2011 photo, a girl plays the piano inside the Changgwang Elementary School in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
U.S. citizens of Korean descent have previously run into trouble in the North. Robert Park, a missionary, was detained after entering the country in late 2009 and said he was tortured for protesting against human rights abuses.
Earlier that year, former 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 labour 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 Dec. 12 that put an object into orbit.
The launch drew U.N. condemnation as a violation of a ban on missile-related activities, but the North has said it was exercising its right to space exploration.
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