North Korea Says It Detained a U.S. Tourist




SEOUL, South Korea — An American tourist who said he was seeking shelter in North Korea has been detained there for more than two weeks and is being held on charges of a “gross violation of its legal order,” the country’s official Korean Central News Agency reported on Friday.

The announcement was made late Friday, while President Obama was in South Korea on a state visit.

The news agency said the American, identified as Miller Matthew Todd, 24, was being held for his “rash behavior” while passing through customs after his arrival in North Korea on April 10. According to the report, the American tore his tourist visa, shouting that he entered the North “after choosing it as a shelter.”

“Our related agencies consider his behavior a serious matter and an investigation is underway,” the news agency said.

It is unclear if the North Koreans were rendering the man’s name in a Korean fashion, with the surname first. The country often delays its announcements of detentions, and it is possible that the news was timed to coincide with Mr. Obama’s trip.

The report came just hours after the summit meeting between Mr. Obama and his South Korean counterpart, Park Geun-hye, in Seoul. The two leaders warned of the possibility of imposing more sanctions on the North amid signs that it might be preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test.

The two leaders also agreed to put pressure on North Korea over human rights violations. Pyongyang has condemned such pressure from the outside as a plot to undermine its political system.

If confirmed, the detention of another American tourist could further complicate Washington’s efforts to handle North Korea’s growing nuclear ambitions.

Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said the United States was aware of the reports and had been in touch with Sweden, which acts on behalf of American interests in North Korea. “I don’t have anything more to share with you,” she added.

North Korea is still holding Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary arrested in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on accusations of trying to use religion to undermine the North Korean government.

The cloistered country has rejected offers by Robert King, Washington’s special envoy for North Korean human rights, to visit Pyongyang to discuss Mr. Bae’s release. North Korea has also been holding a South Korean missionary named Kim Jong-uk on a similar charge to Mr. Bae’s since October.

Another American who entered the North on a tourist visa, Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, Calif., was released last year after more than a month of captivity. North Korea cited Mr. Newman’s age, 85 at the time, as a reason for releasing him. The North had accused him of war crimes after learning that Mr. Newman, a veteran of the Korean War, had helped train anti-Communist guerrillas during the war, working with a unit that was particularly despised by North Korea for its daring raids on its territory.

If the man who was detained two weeks ago meant to defect, he would be a rarity. In 1962, Pfc. James Dresnok, who was stationed in South Korea, walked across the demilitarized zone in broad daylight. A court-martial for forging a pass had been looming at the time he defected.

Once in the North, he joined Pvt. Larry Allen Abshier, who had defected three months earlier. In December 1963, Specialist Jerry Wayne Parrish also defected, and then Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins in January 1965. Together, the four became propaganda heroes for the North.

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