North Korea says it is holding an American tourist

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 7, 2014 at 4:02 am •  Published: June 7, 2014
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has detained a 56-year-old man from Ohio, accusing him of an unspecified crime after he traveled to the communist-led country as a tourist, the nation's state news agency and the man's family said. The North is now holding three Americans.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency identified the latest detainee as Jeffrey Edward Fowle. It said Friday that he arrived in North Korea on April 29 and authorities were investigating him for committing acts inconsistent with the purpose of a tourist visit. It did not give details.

U.S. officials confirmed the detention but didn't identify the person for privacy reasons, nor comment on reports that he was held after leaving a Bible in his hotel room.

A spokesman for the family said Fowle, who is married with three children, was not on a mission for his church.

One of the other two U.S. detainees is Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, who has been held since November 2012, and is serving 15 years of hard labor for what the North says were hostile acts against the state.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf did not say whether Sweden, which handles consular matters for Americans in North Korea, had been granted access to the latest detainee.

"This is the third U.S. citizen that has been detained in North Korea," Harf told reporters in Washington. She added that there's "no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad."

Harf said the department has a warning against travel to North Korea and that being part of a tour group will not prevent a possible arrest.

North Korea has been pushing to promote tourism as part of efforts to earn badly needed foreign currency, but it is also extremely sensitive about how visitors act while in the country.

The other American being held was detained for alleged improper behavior while entering the country. The tourist agency he traveled with identified him as Matthew Miller, 24. North Korea said he entered the country on April 10 with a tourist visa, but tore it up and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum. The brief report said he chose the North "as a shelter."

Friday's announcement came as tension on the Korean Peninsula remains high, with North Korea keeping up rhetoric against the U.S. and South Korea following its series of missile and rocket launches earlier this year. The North's state media have also unleashed racist and sexist slurs against U.S. and South Korean leaders.

The peninsula is still in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from the North.