2 US tourists detained in N Korea to face trial

2014-06-30 08:01
Jeffrey Fowle. (File, AFP)

Jeffrey Fowle. (File, AFP)

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Seoul - North Korea said on Monday it would put two detained American tourists on trial on charges including "perpetrating hostile acts".

The official KCNA news agency said suspicions about "hostile acts" by Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle had been confirmed by evidence and their testimony.

"The relevant organ of the [North] is carrying on the investigation into them and making preparations for bringing them to court on the basis of the already confirmed charges," it said.

Miller, aged 24, was arrested in April after he apparently ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum in the communist state.

Fowle, who entered the North on 29 April, was arrested after the 56-year-old reportedly left a Bible at a hotel, bringing to three the number of Americans held by the isolated state.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American described by a North Korean court as a militant Christian evangelist, was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the regime.

"Contact with an official looking after consular affairs...in the course of investigation are being made in line with the laws of the relevant country," KCNA said without elaborating.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with the North, and the Swedish embassy provides limited services for US citizens there.

Seditious elements

A number of foreigners - many of them missionaries - have been arrested in the reclusive communist state in the past.

Some were allowed to return home after intervention by high-profile US figures, but efforts to secure Bae's release have so far been unsuccessful.

A 75-year-old Australian, John Short, was detained for nearly two weeks until early March after distributing religious material in the capital Pyongyang.

He was deported after signing a detailed "confession" and apology.

The occasional arrests of Americans are seen by some analysts as an attempt to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations with the US.

The impoverished but nuclear-armed state has for years expressed a desire to resume discussions with Washington, including the long-stalled six-nation talks offering aid and diplomatic benefits in return for denuclearisation.

But Washington and Seoul say the North should show sincerity about abandoning its nuclear weapons programme before the six-party talks can resume.

Although religious freedom is enshrined in the North Korean constitution, it does not exist in practice and religious activity is restricted to officially-recognised groups linked to the government.

Pyongyang views foreign missionaries as seditious elements intent on fomenting unrest.

The US government in May issued a fresh warning against all travel by Americans to the North, saying that even membership of a tour would fail to protect them from arbitrary arrest.

Last year 85-year-old US Korean War veteran Merrill Newman was held for more than a month after enquiring about North Korean veterans while on a guided tour of the North.

Read more on:    john short  |  kenneth bae  |  north korea  |  us  |  north korea nuclear programme
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