An American student detained in North Korea for alleged “anti-state” activities is being described by his fellow travel partners as a “typical tourist.”
North Korea announced Friday it detained Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergrad student, for the unspecified “hostile” acts, and was conducting an investigation.
The 21-year-old Warmbier had entered Pyongyang with the China-based Young Pioneers Tours company, which regularly takes foreigners to the isolated country.
Charlotte Guttridge, a tour leader with Young Pioneer Tours, told the Reuters news agency Saturday that Warmbier was detained at the airport as he was trying to board a flight back to China.
Warmbier apparently was detained over an earlier incident at the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, said Guttridge, who declined to comment on the specific nature of the incident.
"Throughout the trip, Otto behaved as a typical tourist — taking pictures, enjoying himself. We had no indication that anything untoward had happened until the airport," Guttridge told Reuters.
In a statement published in the state-run Korean Central News Agency, North Korean officials hinted that Warmbier was acting with the support or on behalf of the U.S. government.
North Korea, which has provided no evidence for this claim, has regularly detained American and other foreign citizens, on trumped up charges.
The detainees are often convicted of crimes in hasty trials and sometimes are sentenced to hard labor. But they are typically released, sometimes following visits by U.S. officials.
Analysts say North Korea often tries to use the detainees as bargaining chips with the West.