SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Friday that it had detained a U.S. citizen on charges of committing "hostile acts against the republic," a crime punishable by years in prison in the isolated country.
The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said the American, Pae Jun Ho, had entered the country on Nov. 3 through a port city near the Russian border. Human rights activists in Seoul said they believed Pae to be Kenneth Bae, 44, who they said this month had been detained in the North.
The North Korean report said that an investigation had established Pae's guilt and that he had confessed. It said he had been allowed to meet with officials of the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which intervenes on Washington's behalf on issues involving U.S. citizens in North Korea. The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea.
The charge comes as the United States is trying to rally support for new penalties against North Korea over its launch of a long-range rocket this month.
In recent years, North Korea has detained several Americans, in some cases agreeing to let them go only after high-profile U.S. figures visited Pyongyang to seek their release. Analysts have suspected North Korea of trying to use such arrests to counter Washington's diplomatic pressure over its nuclear and missile programs and force it to engage with the government.
The human rights activists in Seoul said Bae ran a travel company that specialized in taking tourists and prospective investors to North Korea. Bae, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea, was detained after escorting five European tourists into the North, said Do Hee Youn, who heads the Citizens' Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul.