Reclusive North Korea, which periodically accuses the United
States of military hostility and conspiracy to overthrow its
leadership, has held a number of U.S. citizens in the past, using
them as tools to extract visits by high-profile figures, including
former President Bill Clinton.
Jeffrey Fowle, 56, from Miamisburg, Ohio, was arrested in May for
leaving a copy of the Bible in the toilet of a sailor's club in the
northeastern city of Chongjin, where he was traveling as a tourist.
A pro-North Korea daily published in Japan, the Choson Sinbo, said
Fowle secretly tried to circulate the Bible during the trip in
Chongjin. His family has denied he was on a church mission.
"It was my premeditated act that did not fit the purpose of my trip
as a tourist," Fowle was quoted as saying, translated by the Choson
Sinbo newspaper into Korean.
North Korea is considered one of the world's most oppressive regimes
in terms of religious freedom, although such freedom is technically
guaranteed in its constitution.
Washington has appealed for the release of the three Americans, two
of whom have been convicted and sentenced to hard labor.
"I am anxious about the impending trial. I am just nervous, thinking
that punishment will be given for the wrongdoing I have committed,"
Fowle told Choson Sinbo.
The report said the interview was conducted on Fowle's request.
It was the latest in a series of interviews with the three Americans
allowed by the North, which suggested Pyongyang may be seeking to
reopen dialogue with Washington and to possibly extract a high-level
U.S. envoy to Pyongyang.
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But U.S. special representative for North Korea policy Glyn Davies
said this week during his trip to Asia the North had rejected U.S.
efforts to discuss the detention, adding Pyongyang was missing a
chance to build relations with Washington.
The longest to be held in the North is U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae,
who was sentenced by North Korea last year to 15 years hard labor
for crimes against the state.
Matthew Miller, detained since April for "hostile acts", began a
six-year hard labor sentence that he said involved farm work and
isolation, media reports said.
"It remains to us a source of real concern that North Korea not only
won't release them but won't talk to us about how we might go
forward to secure their release, " Davies told reporters in Seoul
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Jack Kim and Nick Macfie)
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