North Korea said on Tuesday it had detained a US citizen who entered its territory, apparently confirming a report that an American activist crossed into the state to raise awareness about Pyongyang's human rights abuses.
Robert Park, 28, crossed into the North last Friday, other activists said. He told Reuters ahead of the crossing that he saw it as his duty as a Christian to make the journey and was carrying a letter calling on leader Kim Jong-il to step down.
"A US citizen illegally entered the country across the North Korea-China border and has been detained. The person is currently undergoing questioning by a related agency," the North's official KCNA news agency said.
KCNA offered no further details. It usually imprisons the few foreigners who cross illegally into the hermit state.
A US State Department official in Washington said: "We've seen the reports but have no positive confirmation that he's been detained".
Park told Reuters last Wednesday he did not want the US government to win his freedom.
"I don't want President Obama to come and pay to get me out. But I want the North Korean people to be free," Park said before departing for China.
"Until the concentration camps are liberated, I do not want to come out. If I have to die with them, I will. (For) these innocent men, women and children, as Christians, we need to take the cross for them. The cross means that we sacrifice our lives for the redemption of others," he said.
"I am going in for the sake of the lives of the North Korean people. And if he (Kim Jong-il) kills me, in a sense, I realise this is better. Then the governments of the world will become more prone to say something, and more embarrassed and more forced to make a statement."
Western governments and human rights activists say North Korea maintains a network of political prisons to crush the possibility of dissent where brutality is the norm and deaths are commonplace.
The North uses unlawful and arbitrary killings and stpopages public executions to intimidate the masses, critics say. They say it prevents free speech, controls all media and crushes nascent attempts at reform by executing or imprisoning those who oppose the state.
Park was quoted by activists who went with him to the border as shouting when he went across: "I am an American citizen. I am bringing God's love. God loves you."