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Sunday, April 23, 2017

North Korea detains third US citizen as tensions mount in Korean peninsula

Fences marking the border between North Korea and South Korea in the Korean demilitarized zone. Source: Rex Wholster/Shutterstock-(File) Military vehicles carry missiles with characters reading “Pukkuksong” during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father Kim Il Sung, in this undated photo, released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), April 16, 2017. Source: Reuters/KCNA
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The US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the Sunda Strait, Indonesia on April 15, 2017. Source: Sean M. Castellano/Courtesy US Navy/Handout via Reuters

23rd April 2017

A FORMER Korean-American professor was arrested last week in North Korea for unknown reasons, according to sources in the South.

The man, known only as Kim, was taken on Friday at the Pyongyang International Airport while on his way out of the country, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

He is the third US citizen to be detained by the isolated regime in recent times.

The agency citing unnamed sources said the man, in his late 50s, was formerly a professor at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology. He had been engaged in aid and relief programmes to North Korea and was in the country for a month for this purpose.

Stuff said the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang confirmed it was aware of such an arrest but would not comment further. The embassy oversees consular affairs for the US because the latter nation doesn’t have diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Two other Americans recently arrested and currently being detained in North Korea are college student Otto Warmbier and Korean-American pastor Kim Dong-chul.

According to the BBC, the 21-year-old Warmbier was nabbed for trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel during a visit to North Korea in January last year. He was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour for crimes against the state beginning March 2016.

In April 2016, Dong-chul, a 62-year-old naturalised US citizen born in South Korea was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour for espionage. He was caught in October 2015.

Yonhap quoted World North Korea Research Center director Ahn Chan-il as suggesting after the latest arrest that the North likely plans to use Professor Kim as leverage in negotiations with the US.

The agency further reported that since 2009 a total of 10 US citizens have been detained by North Korea on charges of committing crimes against the state, among others. It is often said that Pyongyang uses these detentions as bargaining chips for negotiations with the US.

Meanwhile the North, emboldened by developments in its nuclear programme, said Sunday it was ready to sink a US aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military might.

The remarks came as two Japanese warships, in a show of solidarity, joined the USS Carl Vinson for drills as it neared the Korean peninsula.

US President Donald Trump ordered the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to waters off the Korean peninsula in response to rising tension over the North’s nuclear and missile tests, and its threats to attack the United States and its Asian allies.

The United States has not specified where the carrier strike group is as it approaches the area. US vice-president Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days” but gave no other details.
North Korea remained defiant.

“Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary.
The paper likened the aircraft carrier to a “gross animal” and said a strike on it would be “an actual example to show our military’s force”.

The commentary was carried on page three of the newspaper, after a two-page feature about leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a pig farm.

North Korea will mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday.
It has in the past marked important anniversaries with tests of its weapons.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

It has also carried out a series of ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting Trump.

He has vowed to prevent the North from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike.

Worry in Japan

North Korea says its nuclear programme is for self-defence and has warned the United States of a nuclear attack in response to any aggression. It has also threatened to lay waste to South Korea and Japan.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday North Korea’s recent statements were provocative but had proven to be hollow in the past and should not be trusted.

“We’ve all come to hear their words repeatedly, their word has not proven honest,” Mattis told a news conference in Tel Aviv, before the latest threat to the aircraft carrier.

Japan’s show of naval force reflects growing concern that North Korea could strike it with nuclear or chemical warheads.

Some Japanese ruling party lawmakers are urging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to acquire strike weapons that could hit North Korean missile forces before any imminent attack.

Japan’s navy, which is mostly a destroyer fleet, is the second largest in Asia after China’s.

The two Japanese warships, the Samidare and Ashigara, left western Japan on Friday to join the Carl Vinson and will “practice a variety of tactics” with the US strike group, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force said in a statement.

The Japanese force did not specify where the exercises were taking place but by Sunday the destroyers could have reached an area 2,500 km (1,500 miles) south of Japan, which would be waters east of the Philippines.

From there, it could take three days to reach waters off the Korean peninsula. Japan’s ships would accompany the Carl Vinson north at least into the East China Sea, a source with knowledge of the plan said.

US and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks that the North could soon stage another nuclear test, something the United States, China and others have warned against.

South Korea has put is forces on heightened alert.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally which nevertheless opposes Pyongyang’s weapons programmes and belligerence, has appealed for calm. The United States has called on China to do more to help defuse the tension.

Last Thursday, Trump praised Chinese efforts to rein in “the menace of North Korea”, after North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike”.
Additional reporting from Reuters