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American missionary allegedly held by North Korea. A 'gift' to Pyongyang?

North Korea said it has detained a US citizen, widely believed to be Robert Park, a Korean-American missionary who crossed the border into North Korea with a message for the regime to close all labor camps. His fate could be tied up in the future of six-party talks.
 

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Robert Park in Seoul in this December 22 file photo. The US human rights activist trying to raise global attention about the suffering of the North Korean people had crossed the border into the state on Christmas Eve.

Lee Jae-Won/Reuters/File

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A 28-year-old Korean-American crossed a frozen river border into North Korea on Christmas Eve with a message of “love and forgiveness” for leader Kim Jong-il but now appears to be in need of Mr. Kim’s mercy to be able to leave.

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday that “authorities” have detained a "US citizen" who entered North Korea “illegally” from China ,and that he’s “under investigation by a relevant organ.”

The person under detention is assumed to be Robert Park, who walked across the ice of the narrow Tumen River bearing a letter that a South Korean website quotes as asking him to “open your borders,” “close down all concentration camps and release all political prisoners…..”

That message is sure to upset North Korean authorities, who deny any human rights abuses, but the question now is how much difficulty Mr. Park faces before Kim Jong-il decides it’s time to let him go.

The case “could be a touchstone or bellwether of how US-Korean relations are going,” says Aidan Foster-Carter, a long-time Korea expert based in England. “I imagine, if they want to make a point, they will hold him a while.”

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