Lynnwood man reportedly being held in North Korea

A Lynnwood man reportedly has been in custody for more than a month in North Korea, according to news reports.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean American and U.S. citizen, is the owner of Nations Tour, a company that focuses on tours to the northeast region of North Korea, according to NKnews.org, a website focusing North Korean news. The news organization reported that the Nations Tour’s website has been taken down.

CNN reported that the U.S. government does not believe that Bae, who has traveled to North Korea several times before, is being mistreated. Bae has been involved with a Protestant group, a U.S. official told the network.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in her daily press briefing Tuesday that, “We’re obviously aware of these reports that a U.S. citizen has been detained in North Korea. We obviously have no higher priority than the welfare of our citizens.”

Nuland declined further comment on Bae’s case because of “privacy considerations.”

A South Korean newspaper reported that Bae had been arrested by security authorities in North Korea in early November. Bae, 44, entered the northeastern port city of Rajin, according to the newspaper.

Bae was detained by North Korean authorities and has been questioned after a computer hard disk was found, it quoted an unidentified source as saying. The source told the paper that the hard disk might have contained sensitive information about North Korea.

Sweden is lobbying for Bae’s release, Nuland said in the briefing.

“We have no representation in Pyongyang, (North Korea),” Nuland said. “The Embassy of Sweden acts as our protecting power for issues involving U.S. citizens in North Korea.”

Sinae Cheh, a Korean American who serves as the artistic director of the Morning Star Korean Cultural Center in Lynnwood, said she doesn’t think she knows Bae.

“We have a large Korean community in south Snohomish County and most of us are affiliated with Christian organizations,” Cheh said. “Not knowing the whole story, I would say that at this point we should not overreact and be too worried about Kenneth Bae. Many of us have information on our computers whether we intend to or not.”

About six years ago, the Rev. Phillip Jun Buck, then 68, of Everett, was released from a Chinese prison after more than a year. The Korean American missionary was providing humanitarian aid to North Korean refugees in northeastern China when police arrested him.

State Rep. Cindy Ryu, a Democrat in the 32nd Legislative District, said that it could be that people in the south Snohomish County Korean community are not as familiar with Bae’s Americanized name.

“They probably know him by his Korean name,” said Ryu, of Shoreline.

And Bae could be billing himself as a tour director when his true work is as a Christian missionary, she said.

“Many of us are third- and fourth-generation Christians and many of our pastors are originally from North Korea,” Ryu said. “We want to visit our home country, but in North Korea you cannot say you are a missionary.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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