US national likely held by North Korea after crossing border: UN

UN Command says it believes the person is in custody after crossing into North Korea without approval.

A US citizen has likely been detained in North Korea after crossing the military demarcation line separating the two Koreas without authorisation, according to the United Nations Command.

The person was taking part in a tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA), the border village in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South Korea and North Korea where soldiers from both sides stand guard.

“A U.S. National on a JSA orientation tour crossed, without authorization, the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” the UN Command, which has helped oversee the DMZ since an armistice ended fighting in the 1950-1953 Korean War, said on Tuesday.

DPRK is short for North Korea’s official name.

“We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident,” the UN Command added, referring to North Korea’s People’s Army.

It gave no further details on who the person is or why they crossed the border.

There was no immediate comment by the US Department of State and South Korea’s defence ministry.

State Department travel advisory bans US nationals from entering North Korea “due to the continuing serious risk of arrest and long term detention of U.S. nationals”.

The ban was implemented after US college student Otto Warmbier was detained by North Korean authorities while on a tour of the country in 2015. He died in 2017, days after he was released from prison and returned to the United States in a coma.

Cases of US citizens or South Koreans defecting to North Korea are rare, though more than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea to avoid political oppression and economic difficulties since the end of the Korean War.