North Korea may have detained elderly US citizen: Media

TOKYO (REUTERS) - North Korea may have detained an elderly US man last month who entered the country on a tourist visa, Japan's Kyodo News Service said on Wednesday, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.

Kyodo, in a report from Beijing, said the possible detention could become another diplomatic bargaining chip for North Korea, which has held Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, since November 2012. Bae has been sentenced by the Pyongyang regime to 15 years of hard labour.

The Kyodo report could not be immediately confirmed.

North Korea claims the man, who apparently is not of Korean descent, has broken the law, according to Kyodo. The man entered North Korea for sightseeing last month with a valid visa, Kyodo quoted the diplomatic source as saying.

Nolan Barkhouse, a spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing, said: "We are aware of reports that a US citizen was detained in North Korea, but we have no additional information to share at this time."

He urged Americans to read a State Department warning that "recommends against all travel by US citizens to North Korea."

That warning says that "US citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention."

North Korea said on Nov 7 that it had arrested a South Korean spy, but has not provided any more details.

In Seoul, local media said the South Korean man arrested in North Korea as a "spy" was an elderly missionary.

"The South Korean that North Korea claims to be a South Korean spy turned out to be 50-year-old missionary named Kim Jeong-wook," the Donga Ilbo newspaper said on its website, citing Kim's family in South Korea and unnamed sources in China.