Today North Korea’s state news agency, KNCA, issued a brief report titled “American Arrested In DPRK For Committing Crime”.The US citizen reportedly arrested is named in the report as Pae Jun Ho. Pae had apparently entered the country on November 3 on a tourist visa but was later detained, KNCA reports, with his crimes “proven through evidence”.
The AP reports that Pae Jun Ho is likely Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old man from Washington who had been operating trips for tourists in North Korea.
Earlier this month NK News reported that Bae was behind the “Nation Tours”, a group that organised tours to the north-east of North Korea. The website for the group is now down, but web hosting records suggest the website was registered in Los Angeles in late 2011. The website also had a Chinese phone number on it, suggesting a Sino-based operation.
It’s not exactly clear what crime Bae committed. Bae had reportedly been in the Northeastern city of Rajin, a special economic zone near China. It is across the border from the Chinese city of Yanji, where many Christian groups shelter North Korean refugees — something which angers the North Korean state considerably. NK News cites South Korean newspaper Kookmin Ilbo as saying a computer hard disk was found amongst the tourists on the trip. The hard disk is believed to have sensitive information about North Korea on it.
An official has previously told CNN that Bae was a member of a Protestant religious movement, the network reports.
Another very real possibility is that the arrest is being used as a “bargaining chip” by North Korea to force the US into talks. The US State Department has confirmed they were aware of reports earlier this month, according to Yonhap News. The Swedish government is working to get Pae released.
Five other Americans have been detained in North Korea since 2009, the AP reports.