Two US citizens will face trial for carrying out hostile acts against North Korea, Pyongyang announced on Monday. A small number of Americans visit North Korea each year as tourists despite the US State Department’s warnings against it.
Investigations into US nationals Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle have confirmed their hostile acts with evidence as well as through their testimonies, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a short report.
The news agency did not specify what the two men did that was considered either hostile or illegal, nor what kind of punishment they might face. It also did not say when their trials would begin.
Fowle arrived in the country on April 29. North Korea’s state media said in June that authorities were investigating him for committing acts inconsistent with the purpose of a tourist visit.
Diplomatic sources said Fowle was detained for leaving a Bible in his hotel room. But a spokesman for Fowle’s family said the 56-year-old from Ohio was not on a mission for the church. His wife and three children said they miss him very much and “are anxious for his return home”, according to a statement after his detention that was provided by a family spokesman.
The KCNA said 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.
A large number of Western tourists visited Pyongyang in April to run in the annual Pyongyang Marathon or attend related events. Miller came at that time, but tour organisers say he was not planning to join the marathon.
North Korea has also been 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 for what Pyongyang says were also hostile acts committed against the state.
The latest arrests present a conundrum for Washington, which has no diplomatic ties with the North and no embassy in Pyongyang. Instead, the Swedish Embassy takes responsibility for US consular affairs in North Korea.
State Department officials say they cannot release details about the cases because they need a privacy waiver to do so.
Pyongyang has been strongly pushing for more tourism lately in an effort to bring in foreign cash. The tourism push has been directed at the Chinese, who by far are the most common visitors to the North, but the number of Western tourists to North Korea has also been growing.
Despite its efforts to bring in more tourists, the North remains highly sensitive to any actions it considers political and is particularly wary of anything it deems to be Christian proselytizing.
After Miller’s detention, Washington updated its travel warning to the North to note that, over the past 18 months, “North Korea detained several US citizens who were part of organised tours. 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 in the DPRK have not succeeded in gaining their release.
The Korean Peninsula is still in a technical state of war because the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Some 28,500 US troops remain stationed in South Korea.