North Korea says it has arrested a U.S. citizen for committing crimes against the state after he entered the reclusive communist country as a tourist.
The official Korean Central News Agency said Friday the man, identified as Bae Jun-ho, has confessed to unspecified crimes that it said were "proven through evidence."
It said legal actions are being taken against Bae "in line with criminal procedure law," suggesting he will be tried in court. Under North Korean law, the punishment for hostile action against the state is five to 10 years of hard labor.
VOA's Korean Service says it has learned Bae was a tour guide operating his own company. Sources familiar with the matter told VOA Bae was detained for possessing photos of hungry North Korean children begging for food. The sources said Bae had taken pictures of the children during his travels.
Yoon Hee-do, an official with a South Korean human rights group (Citizen's Coalition for the Human Rights for North Korean Refugees) said that Bae also did charity work for North Korean orphans.
"His charity work is pretty substantial. He apparently provided assistance to an orphanage that houses children and to a big bakery in the Rason Special Economic Zone," he said.
Yoon Hee-do denied that Bae committed a crime, saying he would have known to be very careful while operating in the North. "He [Bae] has enough experience to know that the local authorities can blow even a little misdeed out of proportion. So I doubt he has done anything that is harmful to the North Korean regime," he said.
North Korean state media said Bae was detained on Nov. 3 as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason, which lies in a special economic zone near the border with Russia and China.
KCNA says officials from the Swedish Embassy met with Bae on Friday. Sweden often acts on behalf of the United States, since Washington does not have diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.
North Korea has detained several Americans in recent years, mostly journalists or Christians accused of proselytizing. In 2009, two television journalists were detained and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after crossing into the North from China. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton later traveled to North Korea to win their release.
In 2010, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter negotiated the release of U.S. national Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was sentenced to eight years of hard labor.
The latest arrest was first reported by South Korean media. The reports described the detainee as a 44-year-old Korean-American tour operator Kenneth Bae, and said he was arrested for carrying a computer that contained sensitive or controversial information.
The arrest comes amid increased tension between the U.S. and North Korea after Pyongyang successfully launched a satellite into space earlier this month. The UN Security Council condemned the launch as a disguised long-range missile test barred under UN sanctions.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.