North Korea Takes Another American Hostage

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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North Korean state media confirmed a University of Virginia student has been placed under arrest for committing a “hostile act.”

Otto Frederick Warmbier was taken into custody by North Korean officials Jan. 2, according to Young Pioneer Tours, a Chinese tour company. North Korea’s state run media outlet KCNA claims that Warmbier was arrested for trying “to destroy the country’s unity.”

“We are aware of media reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea. The welfare of U.S. citizens is one of the Department’s highest priorities. In cases where U.S. citizens are reported detained in North Korea, we work closely with the Swedish Embassy, which serves as the United States’ Protecting Power in North Korea,” said Department of State deputy spokesman Mark Toner Friday.

Warmbier is believed to be the second U.S. citizen apprehended by North Korean authorities this month. Kim Dong Chul, a dual citizen in South Korea and the U.S., has been in North Korean custody since October 2015.

The U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea, meaning the State department does not generally engage directly on the behalf of Americans held in North Korean custody. Instead, the U.S. works through a “protecting power” which is essentially a country that acts as a sort of proxy for Americans in countries with which the U.S. has no relations. Sweden has acted as the U.S. protecting power for American citizens held by North Korea in the past.

North Korea’s apprehension of Warmbier comes as tensions between it and South Korea have increased since a North Korean nuclear test in early January 2016.

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