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Sunday 25 February 2018

US men face trial in North Korea

The two Americans were arrested earlier this year after entering North Korea as tourists
The two Americans were arrested earlier this year after entering North Korea as tourists

North Korea is preparing to try two Americans who entered the country as tourists over carrying out what it says were hostile acts against it.

Investigations into Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle concluded that suspicions about their hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their testimonies, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said.

Mr Fowle arrived in the county on April 29. North Korea's state media said in June that authorities were investigating him over committing acts inconsistent with the purpose of a tourist visit.

Diplomatic sources said he was detained for leaving a Bible in his hotel room. But a spokesman for his family said the 56-year-old from Miamisburg, Ohio, was not on a mission for his church.

His wife and three children - aged nine, 10, and 12 - said they miss him very much and "are anxious for his return home", a statement after his detention provided by a spokesman for the family said.

"It's devastating," Sergei Luzginov, a Fowle family friend said today. "We are praying for him... He loves his kids and he was very protective of his family, and it's going to be tough for them to survive without Jeff if he's going to be sentenced for a long time."

Mr Luzginov said he met the Fowle family in 2007 in an Ohio twon's Russian immigrant community. Both he and Fowle's wife, Tatyana Fowle, 40, are Russian immigrants.

Mr Luzginov said Mr Fowle's family and friends are trying to be optimistic "but at the same time, you know the track record that's the (North) Korean government".

KCNA said Mr Miller, 24, entered the country on April 10 with a tourist visa, but tore it up at the airport and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum.

North Korea has also been separately holding Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae since November 2012. He was convicted by a North Korean court and is serving 15 years of hard labour, also for what the North says were hostile acts against the state.

A small number of US citizens visit North Korea each year as tourists, though the State Department strongly advises against it.

The latest arrests present a conundrum for Washington, which has no diplomatic ties with the North and no embassy there. The Swedish Embassy takes responsibility for US consular affairs.

Pyongyang has been strongly pushing tourism lately in an effort to bring in foreign cash but remains highly sensitive to any actions it considers political and is particularly wary of anything it deems to be Christian proselytising.

After Mr Miller's detention, Washington updated its travel warning about the North to note that over the past 18 months it has "detained several US citizens who were part of organised tours".

It said: "Do not assume that joining a group tour or use of a tour guide will prevent your arrest or detention by North Korean authorities."

It added that efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions of US citizens have not succeeded in gaining their release.

The Korean Peninsula is still in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea.

Press Association

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