North Korea says it has detained U.S. citizen

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PYONGYANG, North Korea -- North Korea said Friday that an American citizen has been detained after confessing to unspecified crimes, confirming news reports about his arrest at a time when Pyongyang is facing criticism from Washington for launching a long-range rocket last week.

The American was identified as Pae Jun Ho in a brief dispatch issued by the state-run Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang. News reports in the United States and South Korea said Mr. Pae is known in his home state of Washington as Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tour operator of Korean descent.

An expert said he is likely to become a bargaining chip for the North, an attempt to draw the United States into talks. Five other Americans known to have been detained in North Korea since 2009 were all eventually released.

North Korean state media said Mr. Pae arrived Nov. 3 in the far northeastern city of Rajin as part of a tour. Rajin is part of a special economic zone not far from Yanji, China, that has sought to draw foreign investors and tourists over the past year. Yanji, home to many ethnic Korean Chinese, also serves as a base for Christian groups that shelter North Korean defectors.

"In the process of investigation, evidence proving that he committed a crime against [North Korea] was revealed. He admitted his crime," the KCNA dispatch said. The North said the crimes were "proven through evidence" but did not elaborate.

KCNA said consular officials from the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang visited Mr. Pae on Friday. Sweden represents the United States in diplomatic affairs in North Korea, since Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations. Karl-Olof Andersson, Sweden's ambassador to North Korea, said he could not comment on the case and referred the matter to the U.S. State Department.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Friday would only say the department was aware of the detention, and that the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang is providing consular services.

The operator of a Korean language website for the Korean community in the Northwest, Chong Tae Kim of JoySeattle.com, said the detainee's father lives in Korea, and his mother lives in Lynnwood, Wash. "She hopes the State Department and Swedish Embassy help with his release," he said Friday.

News of the arrest comes as North Korea is celebrating the Dec. 12 launch of a satellite into space, in defiance of calls by the United States and others to cancel a liftoff widely seen as an illicit test of ballistic missile technology.

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