North Korea said Friday that it had discussed the issue of American and Canadian detainees with the Swedish ambassador in the country.
The North is holding at least two Americans and one Canadian for alleged espionage, subversion and other anti-state activities. Both the US and Canada have no diplomatic offices in North Korea.
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A North Korean Foreign Ministry official met with the Swedish ambassador on Thursday for talks on consular access for Canadian detainee Hyeon Soo Lim, a Christian pastor, sentenced last year to life in prison with hard labor, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.
The Swedish ambassador used the meeting as a chance to raise the issue of consular affairs for the American detainees. The Pyongyang official, identified as the director general of the ministry’s European Department 2, reiterated a position that the North will handle the issues of detained Americans line with a wartime law, according to the KCNA.
No further details were given, including what the North Korean official said about Lim. In July, North Korea announced that it would handle all issues between the two countries in line with a wartime law in response to US sanctions that target leader Kim Jong Un.
It has not elaborated on what wartime law means, although analysts say that suggests North Korea could deal with US detainees in a harsher manner.
Korean-American Kim Tong Chol is serving a 10-year prison term with hard labor, while University of Virginia undergraduate Otto Warmbier received 15 years.
Lim, who pastored the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was convicted by Pyongyang’s Supreme Court for trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping US and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens.
North Korea is often accused by other governments of using foreign detainees as a way to win concessions from other countries. Pyongyang is locked in a long-running standoff with Washington and other countries over its pursuit of nuclear weapons.