SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - North Korea said Friday that it had discussed the issue of American and Canadian detainees with the Swedish ambassador in the country.
The North is holding at least two Americans and one Canadian for alleged espionage, subversion and other anti-state activities. Neither the U.S. nor Canada has diplomatic offices in North Korea.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry official met with the Swedish ambassador Thursday for talks on consular access for the Canadian detainee, Hyeon Soo Lim, a Christian pastor sentenced last year to life in prison with hard labor, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.
The Swedish ambassador used the meeting as a chance to raise the issue of consular affairs for the American detainees. The Pyongyang official, identified as the director general of the ministry’s European Department 2, reiterated a position that the North will handle the issues of detained Americans line with a wartime law, according to the KCNA.
No further details were given, including what the North Korean official said about Lim.
In July, North Korea announced that it would handle all issues between the two countries in line with a wartime law in response to U.S. sanctions that target leader Kim Jong Un.
It has not elaborated on what wartime law means, although it suggests North Korea could deal with U.S. detainees in a harsher manner.
Korean-American Kim Tong Chol is serving a 10-year prison term with hard labor, while University of Virginia undergraduate Otto Warmbier received 15 years over alleged anti-state activities such as espionage and subversion.
Lim, who pastored the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was sentenced in December last year for what the North called crimes against the state.
Detainees for concessions
Pyongyang’s Supreme Court found Lim guilty of crimes such as trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping U.S. and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.
Outside analysts say North Korea often uses foreign detainees as a way to win concessions from other countries. Pyongyang is locked in a long-running standoff with Washington and other countries over its pursuit of nuclear weapons.