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US tourist detained in North Korea, state media reports

Arrest brings the number of U.S. citizens currently held by Pyongyang to three

North Korea detained an American tourist for violating its laws after he entered the secretive state in April, state media reported Friday, bringing the number of U.S. citizens currently held by Pyongyang to three.

"American citizen Jeffrey Edward Fowle entered the DPRK as a tourist on April 29 and acted in violation of the DPRK law, contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay," North Korean state media KCNA reported, referring to the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Pyongyang has detained at least eight U.S. citizens since 2009, using them as a tool to extract visits by high-profile figures, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, for propaganda means.

North Korea frequently accuses the United States of military hostility and conspiracy to overthrow its leadership. The two states have been locked in a tense diplomatic conflict over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

The latest American to be held was being questioned by authorities for conduct inappropriate for the purpose of his visit as a tourist, state media reported.

The North's KCNA news agency said he entered the country on April 29. It gave no further details.

A State Department official said Washington was aware of reports that a third U.S. citizen had been detained in North Korea. "There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad," the official said, adding no further information was available.

Earlier on Friday, Japan's Kyodo news agency said North Korea had detained a U.S. citizen in mid-May. The Kyodo report quoted unidentified diplomatic sources.

Two other Americans are currently being held by North Korea, arrested after arriving on tourist visas and accused of crimes against the state. Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae has been in custody for 18 months and a second man has been held since April.

Bae was arrested in 2012 and has been sentenced to 15 years' hard labor on charges of state subversion. His family says he suffers from a variety of health issues, including diabetes, an enlarged heart, kidney stones and severe back pain.  

In May, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory urging Americans not to travel to North Korea because of the "risk of arbitrary arrest and detention" even while holding valid visas.

"Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained, or expelled for activities that would not be considered criminal outside North Korea," it said.

War veteran released

North Korea has detained and then released other Americans in the past year, including Korean War veteran Merrill E. Newman, whom it expelled after holding him for more than a month accusing him of "a long list of indelible crimes against the DPRK government and Korean people,” KCNA reported.

In April, North Korea said it had detained a 24-year-old American for improper behavior while he was being processed to enter the country as a tourist. He was identified as Miller Matthew Todd — possibly putting his surname first. It said he entered the country on April 10 with a tourist visa, but tore it up and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum. The brief report said he chose the North "as a shelter."

North Korea has twice canceled visits by Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues, to discuss Bae's case.

The Korean peninsula is still technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.

The U.S. and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, but Sweden, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, oversees consular issues for the United States there.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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