North Korea Claims It Has U.S. Student In Custody

January 22, 2016

North Korean state media said Friday that the country has detained a U.S. student from the University of Virginia for “anti-republic activities.”

The state-run agency, KCNA, said the student, Otto Frederick Warmbier, entered North Korea as a tourist but “with a goal to wreck the foundation of state unity … under the manipulation of the U.S. government.”

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said it was aware of the report.

The University of Virginia’s website lists an undergraduate with that name at the McIntire School of Commerce, the university’s business school.

Reuters reports:

“Gareth Johnson of China-based Young Pioneer Tours confirmed Warmbier was on one of its tours and said he had been detained in North Korea on Jan. 2.”

Young Pioneer Tours, which says it is “an adventure tour operator that provides ‘budget tours to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from,’ ” posted this statement on its website:

“We can confirm that the reports that one of our clients is being detained in Pyongyang are true. Their family have been informed and we are in contact with the Swedish Embassy, (who act as the protecting interest for U.S citizens), who are working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address the case. We are also assisting the U.S Department of State closely with regards to the situation. In the meantime we would appreciate Otto’s and his family’s privacy being respected and we hope his release can be secured as soon as possible.”

News of the detention came against a backdrop of ongoing diplomatic discussions in the international community about how to deal with North Korea following a nuclear test on Jan. 6.

U.S. envoys are currently in Beijing, Pyongyang’s traditional ally, to push China for a response that is not “business as usual,” according to U.S. and South Korean officials.

“The objective is very clear,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “It is to sharpen the choice faced by Kim Jong Un and the North Korean regime. The choice between continuing their nuclear programs and facing growing isolation and growing economic pain or, on the contrary, making good on promises they made long ago.”

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