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(2nd LD) Korean-American detained in N. Korea: report
(ATTN: UPDATES with the U.S. gov't's initial response in paras 9-11; CHANGES dateline)
SEOUL/WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (Yonhap) -- A Korean-American tour operator has been held in North Korea for more than a month after one of his tour members was found to be carrying a computer hard disk that apparently contained sensitive information, a report said Tuesday.

   According to Seoul's Kookmin Ilbo newspaper, Kenneth Bae, 44, entered the communist country's northeastern port city of Rajin on Nov. 3 along with five other tourists for a five-day trip.

   Bae was detained by North Korean authorities and has been questioned after a computer hard disk was found among the tourists, the Korean-language newspaper said, citing an unidentified source.

   The source told the paper that the hard disk might have contained sensitive information about North Korea.

   After his detention, Bae was moved to Pyongyang for further investigation, the paper quoted its source as saying.

   The United States, through its embassy in Beijing, has been negotiating with North Korea for Bae's release, the newspaper said.

   Washington has no diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. When U.S. citizens have been held in North Korea in the past, the United States empowered the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang to give them consular protection.

   South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said it could not immediately confirm the report.

   The State Department did not give immediate confirmation.

   "We are checking if we have anything to share," a department official said.

   Another official dealing with East Asian and Pacific affairs said the issue, if true, is a matter to be handled by the consular affairs bureau.

   In recent years, several U.S. citizens have been detained in North Korea but all of them were released.

   Last year, Eddie Yong Su Jun, a Korean-American missionary, was released after facing indictment on charges of committing an unspecified crime against the North's regime.

   In 2010, North Korea set free Robert Park, a Korean-American Christian activist who crossed into the country on Christmas Day 2009 to draw international attention to the North's poor human rights record.

   In 2009, former U.S. President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang to win the release of two American journalists caught during a reporting tour covering North Korean defectors.

   Bae's detention comes amid tensions over Pyongyang's planned long-range rocket launch. North Korea claims that the three-stage rocket will put a scientific satellite into orbit, but the U.S. and other regional players believe that it is a disguised test of long-range missile technology, banned by the United Nations.

   lcd@yna.co.kr
leechidong@gmail.com
(END)
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