The United States Tuesday urged North Korea to release a detained U.S. citizen on humanitarian grounds. The unidentified American is understood to have been arrested by North Korean authorities a few weeks ago, but his case only came to light this week.
Officials here are giving few details of the latest case involving an American detained by North Korea.
But they say the unidentified U.S. citizen has been visited by Swedish diplomats who represent United States interests there, and they are appealing for his early release on humanitarian grounds.
A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters on grounds of anonymity said the American entered North Korea a matter of months ago, but was detained only recently for reasons not specified by Pyongyang authorities.
State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said U.S. officials have been in contact with the family of the detained American.
He said he was constrained from elaborating on the case because U.S. officials have not obtained a waiver of privacy rules from the detainee or his family.
"I don’t have any details on what this individual was doing in North Korea. But we would call on the government of North Korea to release this [U.S.] citizen on humanitarian grounds. And we would ask that they respect and treat this citizen in a manner consistent with international human rights law," Toner said.
North Korea has detained several Americans in recent years, adding to tensions in an already difficult relationship.
Last August, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter went to Pyongyang and secured the release of U.S. citizen Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a Christian activist who had been convicted of illegally crossing into North Korea from China and sentenced to eight years hard labor.
A year earlier, former President Bill Clinton went to North Korea, and was allowed to return home with two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had also been sentenced to hard labor for illegally entering the country.
Former President Carter is expected to return to North Korea late this month with a delegation of other retired world leaders, an informal grouping known as The Elders, on a visit to discuss regional tensions and reported food shortages in the communist state.
State Department Spokesman Toner said he was unaware whether U.S. officials would ask Mr. Carter to intercede on behalf of the latest American detainee but said it was a "fair question."
Mr. Carter’s pending visit to North Korea is described as a private mission, though U.S. dignitaries visiting the country normally consult with the State Department before and after such travel.
The former president’s delegation is also expected to include former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, a key negotiator of Kosovo’s independence in 2008, former Irish president Mary Robinson, a former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.
The new detention case may also figure in talks when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits South Korea late next week.