North Korea detains US missionary over illegal entry


NORTH KOREA said yesterday that it was holding an American missionary who entered the country illegally last week. He is believed to be Robert Park, a 28-year-old Christian activist who wanted to go to North Korea to highlight the country’s poor human rights situation.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a terse dispatch that the American was being investigated after he crossed the North Korea-China border on Christmas Day, although other reports said he entered on Christmas Eve.

Robert Park, originally from Tucson, Arizona, crossed illegally into North Korea from China on Christmas Day with a message for the country’s ruler, Kim Jong-il, the Christian Solidarity Worldwide said in a statement.

The missionary runs Global Justice Prayer Network and the letter he carried with him said: “Please open your borders so that we may bring food, provisions, medicine, necessities, and assistance to those who are struggling to survive. Please close down all concentration camps and release all political prisoners today . . . All we are asking is for all North Koreans to be free, safe and have life.”

Entry into North Korea, one of the most reclusive and secretive nations in the world, is strictly regulated. In March, two US journalists were arrested and sentenced four months later to 12 years of hard labour for illegally crossing the border and engaging in “hostile acts”. The women were released in August after former US president Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang to negotiate their release.

North Korea normally has a three-year prison sentence for anyone entering the country illegally, although it is likely that Mr Park will be released as the North will not be enthusiastic about the international attention his case will bring. North Korea and the US are currently at an impasse in talks about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, although there is a sign of thawing relations since US president Barack Obama’s special envoy visited North Korea earlier this month.

North Korea is believed to hold over 150,000 political prisoners in camps across the country.