World

North Korea detains US student for 'hostile act'

Seoul: North Korea said on Friday it had detained a US university student for committing a "hostile act" against the country, the third western citizen known to be held in the isolated state.

The state-run KCNA news agency said the student, Otto Frederick Warmbier, entered North Korea as a tourist and was "was caught committing a hostile act against the state," which it said was "tolerated and manipulated by the US government".

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gestures as he watches a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea in January.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gestures as he watches a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea in January. Photo: AP

KCNA said Mr Warmbier had entered the country with an "aim to destroy the country's unity". It did not elaborate.

Mr Warmbier is an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, according to the university's website. Gareth Johnson of China-based Young Pioneer Tours confirmed Mr Warmbier was on one of its tours and said he had been detained in North Korea on January 2.

An official at the US embassy in the South Korean capital Seoul said it was aware of the reported arrest.

Johnson said Young Pioneer Tours was in touch with Mr Warmbier's family and US officials.

"We are in touch with Otto's family, the US State Department and the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang and doing all we can to secure his release," Johnson told Reuters.

The Swedish Embassy represents US interests in North Korea.

A South Korean-born Canadian pastor was arrested in North Korea last year and given a life sentence for subversion. Earlier this month, a Korean-American man told CNN in Pyongyang that he was being held by the state for spying.

In 2014, Pyongyang released three detained Americans. Last October, it freed a South Korean national with a US green card after holding him for six months.

South Korea warned that the United States and its allies were working on further sanctions to inflict "bone-numbing pain" on North Korea after its latest nuclear test this month, in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions, and urged China to do its part to rein in its neighbour.

Earlier this week, the US warned the country and its allies would will bolster sanctions and go on the defensive against North Korea in ways that China may not like if Beijing fails to lend greater support to efforts to curb the North's nuclear ambitions.

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, made the warning on Wednesday a day before he planned to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing to pressure them to use their economic leverage over North Korea to force it to end its nuclear weapons program.

"I think what we will be talking to China about is that we will, both in terms of sanctions and in terms of our defense postures, have to take additional steps in order to use the leverage we have in order to defend ourselves and our allies if North Korea doesn't change its behaviour," Mr Blinken said.

Some of those steps "won't be directed at China, but China probably won't like them," he said.

Mr Blinken refused to go into detail. But he said that "everything is on the table," including so-called secondary sanctions, of the type the United States most recently used against Iran, which would target third-party countries doing business with North Korea.

Reuters, The New York Times