North Korea detains 24-year-old American tourist
American Matthew Miller was reportedly detained by North Korean officials. The detention comes as President Obama, visiting South Korea, vowed continued US military support Saturday in the face of North Korea's threats.
Pyongyang, North Korea and Seoul, South Korea
North Korea has detained a 24-year-old American man for improper behavior while he was being processed to enter the country as a tourist, state media reported Saturday.
The official Korean Central News Agency identified the man as Miller Matthew Todd — possibly putting his surname first — and said he entered the country on April 10 with a tourist visa, but tore it up and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum. The brief report said he chose the North "as a shelter."
It said he was detained for "gross violation" of North Korea's legal order and was being investigated. It gave no further details.
In a statement issued Friday, New Jersey-based Uri Tours said it has "been working closely and continuously with all relevant government and diplomatic entities to resolve this matter in a speedy and favorable manner."
Uri Tours identified the man as Matthew Miller.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that the U.S. is aware of the report, but she did not confirm an American was being held. She said the department is in touch with the Swedish Embassy which handles consular cases for the U.S. because Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.
"There is no greater priority to us than the welfare and safety of US citizens. We don't have additional information to share at this time," Psaki said.
A large number of foreign tourists were in North Korea in mid-April to see events held for the anniversary of national founder Kim Il Sung's April 15 birthday. One of the main events, the annual Pyongyang marathon, was opened to foreign amateur runners for the first time this year and drew well over 100 tourists.
North Korea has been trying to boost tourism recently to generate income. Earlier this year, it opened a new luxury ski resort and it is planning to develop special zones for tourism, mostly from China, across the country.
But the North also continues to be highly sensitive about the activities and conduct of foreigners who are allowed in.
North Korea has been holding a Korean-American missionary, Kenneth Bae, since November 2012. Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for what the North has claimed were hostile acts against the state. In March, it deported an Australian missionary detained for spreading Christianity in the country after he apologized for anti-state religious acts and requested forgiveness.
The announcement Saturday came as President Barack Obama was visiting rival South Korea.
Mr. Obama warned North Korea on Saturday that the United States "will not hesitate to use our military might" to defend allies, as he sought to showcase U.S. power in the region amid China's growing influence and Pyongyang's unpredictable nuclear threats.
Obama's visit to Seoul comes as North Korea has threatened to conduct its fourth nuclear test, leading Obama to raise the possibility of further sanctions.
"The commitment that the United States of America has made to the security of the Republic of Korea only grows stronger in the face of aggression," Obama said in a speech to some of the 28,000 American service members stationed in South Korea to keep watch on its northern neighbor. "Our alliance does not waiver with each bout of their attention seeking. It just gains the support of the rest of the world."
The website 38 North, which closely monitors North Korea, said commercial satellite imagery from Wednesday showed increased movement of vehicles and materials near what are believed to be the entrances to two completed tunnels at Punggye-ri nuclear test site. The movements could be preparations for an underground atomic explosion, although predicting underground tests is notoriously difficult.
Obama ridiculed North Korea's attempt to show force. "Anybody can make threats," he said. "Anyone can move an army. Anyone can show off a missile. That doesn't make you strong."
He said real strength comes from having an open participatory democracy, open markets and a society free to speak out against its government.
"We don't use our military might to impose these things on others, but we will not hesitate to use our military might to defend our allies and our way of life," Obama said to cheers from the uniformed troops who filled a field house at Yongsan Garrison, headquarters for U.S. forces in South Korea.
Obama's 10-minute speech followed a rare joint defense briefing with South Korean President Park Geun-hye that focused on efforts to counter the North's nuclear ambitions. U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of the joint U.S.-South Korea command, told the two presidents that his team "works together every day to make sure that we defend the Republic of Korea and that we deter North Korea."
Associated Press Writer Matthew Pennington in Washington D.C. contributed to this report.