A Korean-American man detained in North Korea has confessed to stealing military secrets and plotting subversion with South Koreans, the North’s official news agency and foreign media reported on Friday.
North Korea, which has been criticized for its human rights record, has in the past used detained Americans to extract high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.
Kim Dong Chul, who has previously said he was a naturalized American citizen and was arrested in North Korea in October, admitted to committing “unpardonable espionage” under the direction of the U.S. and South Korean governments and deeply apologized for his crimes, the North’s KCNA news agency said.
“The extraordinary crime I committed was defaming and insulting the republic’s highest dignity and its system and spreading false propaganda aimed at breaking down its solidarity,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
A source in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang told Reuters that diplomats were notified in the morning of the confession and Kim’s comments were similar to the recent confession of another American being held there, Otto Warmbier.
The U.S. State Department said it was aware of the reported incident but had no further details, citing privacy concerns.
“The welfare of U.S. citizens is one of the Department’s highest priorities,” department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said in a statement.
Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor this month for trying to steal a propaganda banner. The North is also holding a Korean-Canadian Christian pastor, who is serving a life sentence for subversion.
Kim apologized for trying to steal military and state secrets in collusion with South Koreans, and said he was paid for doing it. He described the acts as aimed at overthrowing the North Korean regime, KCNA said.
Photographs issued by the North’s state news agency showed Kim bowing and wiping away tears.
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