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Canadian Pastor Detained in North Korea

A photo provided by the Light Korean Presbyterian Church on March 5, 2015 shows Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim at an agricultural project in North Korea, with the faces of North Korean workers digitally blocked by the church to hide their identities.

A Canadian pastor who traveled to North Korea in late January has been detained, his family said.

The Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim, 60, a native of South Korea, arrived in Rajin, North Korea, in late January and traveled to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission, and he has not been heard from since. According to media reports, Lim's family has received notice from Canadian officials that North Korea is holding him.

The Canadian foreign ministry confirmed the detention of a Canadian citizen by Pyongyang without identifying the detainee.

“We are aware of a Canadian citizen detained in North Korea. Consular officials are in contact with family members and providing assistance to them,” said Caitlin Workman, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, in an e-mail sent to the VOA Korean service Thursday.

Workman said the Canadian government “had long advised and continues to advise against any and all travel by Canadians to North Korea. Canadians should not travel to North Korea under any circumstance,” adding the “ability of Canadian officials to provide consular assistance is extremely limited.”

The Canadian official declined to provide further information for “privacy reasons.”

The North Korean government has yet to make a statement on Lim’s detention.

A close associate of Lim told the VOA Korean service that the pastor traveled to Pyongyang on January 31 and has been out of contact. The associate said Lim initially was believed to be under quarantine imposed by the North Korean government in an effort to prevent the Ebola virus from getting into the country. After waiting for about three weeks after he did not show up for his departure on February 4, Lim’s family contacted the Canadian government to seek help.

FILE - The Light Korean Presbyterian Church, where the Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim is head pastor, is in Mississauga, Ontario.
FILE - The Light Korean Presbyterian Church, where the Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim is head pastor, is in Mississauga, Ontario.

Lim leads the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, and has been running various humanitarian projects to support nurseries and orphanages in North Korea since 1996, when the communist country was hit with severe famine. The latest trip was part of a routine humanitarian mission. Lim immigrated to Canada in 1986 and has a wife and an adult son.

Lim is the second Korean-Canadian held by the North. In 2007, another Korean-Canadian pastor was held and later released by the country for worshipping in public.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.